Tuesday 30th June – 19:45 – Eden Stadium
Well, who predicted that this would be the final at the start of the Under 21 European Championships? Certainly not be, who claimed that both Portugal and Sweden would be knocked out in the group stages. Anyway, the less said about that the better, and both sides have shown why they fully deserve their place in the Prague finale. After topping Group B, Portugal came up against tournament favourites Germany, but swept them aside with a surprise 5-0 victory. Sweden, who finished second in Group B courtesy of a late goal against the Portuguese, also won emphatically in their semi-final against Nordic rivals Denmark 4-1. This was another result that shocked supporters. Sweden’s best performance in this competition was reaching the final in 1992 where they lost to Italy. Portugal also lost to Italy in their last appearance in the final in 1994, meaning both teams are gunning for their first ever Under 21 European Championships crown tomorrow evening. In a tournament where nothing has gone according to the script, anything could happen at the Eden Stadium, and you can find out what does and who lifts the trophy by tuning into BT Sport 1 on Tuesday evening at 7pm, with kick-off 45 minutes later.
- Sweden defender Joseph Baffo missed the semi-final with a shoulder injury but is expected to be fit.
- Portugal’s one doubt is English-born Liverpool defender Tiago Ilori, who was forced out of the starting eleven against Germany after aggravating a thigh injury in the warm-up.
- Both managers could be tempted to keep the same starting elevens from the semi-finals though after seeing such dominant performances.
Sweden – John Guidetti
Recently released by Manchester City, John Guidetti will be gunning for goals in a bid to impress potential suitors. He’s already bagged two so far in the tournament, scoring the equaliser against Italy in the opener and beginning the rout against Denmark in the semi-finals from the penalty spot. The striker has two caps at senior level, but is a regular for the Under 21s and a prolific scorer too, getting 11 goals in 21 games. Guidetti spent most of 2014-15 on loan at Celtic, making a great start scoring 10 times in 11 matches, before a much less impressive second half of the season. The talent is clearly there from a man who was once one of Europe’s hottest prospects, but he is yet to fully bring it out in the Czech Republic.
Portugal – William Carvalho
Perhaps the likes of Raheem Sterling and Jack Wilshere should have followed the example of William Carvalho, who despite being an established figure in the senior side, made himself available for this tournament, and has proved himself key to Portugal’s hopes. The 23 year old featured in the World Cup last summer and has 13 senior caps, and that experience has proved crucial in the Czech Republic, and now Carvalho will look to boost his reputation even more by lifting the trophy. He is already on the radar of Manchester United and Arsenal amongst others, with his commanding performances in midfield for Sporting Lisbon catching the eye. Reports that Arsene Wenger is preparing a bid in excess of £20 million tells you just how good Carvalho is.
The Key Battle: Oscar Hiljemark vs Joao Mario
These two semi-final scoring midfielders will be looking to notch again to help their nation lift the trophy. Oscar Hiljemark is Sweden’s captain and veteran of 36 under-21 internationals – he will break the Sweden record for caps in the final.
He made only two starts for PSV last season but has impressed with his tenacity at the tournament, and got a deserved goal to round off the scoring in the 4-0 semi-final win over Denmark.
The 22 year old also scored on his senior Sweden debut against Bahrain, and has gone on to earn six caps for Erik Hamren’s side.
With William Carvalho and Bernardo Silva dominating the Portugal midfield, Hiljemark’s best chance of winning a battle in the central area is against Joao Mario, whose performances have been overlooked such is the shadow cast by the aforementioned duo.
He is actually Portugal’s top scorer at this tournament, popping up with the winner against England and getting the fourth goal of the game against Germany in the semi-finals.
Mario has three caps for the senior, and like William Carvalho, is a Sporting Lisbon regular, but could be forced into an even bigger role if the Manchester United and Arsenal target leaves.
Last Meeting: Portugal 1-1 Sweden (24th June 2015)
Sweden came from behind to earn a 1-1 draw against Portugal in the final game of Group B earlier on in the competition. For the majority, the match was a cagey affair with both teams’ tournament futures at stakes, but Goncalo Paciencia broke the deadlock with a low strike into the bottom corner to give the Portuguese the lead with eight minutes to go. However, Swedish substitute Simon Tibbling found the net with a minute of the game left to play, as the Scandinavians dramatically booked their place alongside Portugal in the semi-finals. Cue wild scenes of celebration from both sides at full-time. This time there can only be one team celebrating.
My Prediction: Sweden 1-2 Portugal
Knowing my predictions throughout the rest of the tournament, this one will probably be wrong too, but I’ve gone for Portugal to lift the trophy. Beating Germany 5-0 is by far an easy thing to do, and the quality in their side, especially in the midfield, may be too much for Sweden, who have shown they can hold their own. This might just be a step too far for them though, but the game should be incredibly tight with Ivan Cavaleiro and William Carvalho scoring the Portuguese goals, and John Guidetti bagging for the Swedes.