ST PETERSBURG, June 18: Emil Forsberg scored Sweden’s first goal of the Euro 2020 from the penalty spot as they edged out Slovakia 1-0 to boost their qualification hopes from Group E on Friday.
In a game which was short of clear-cut chances, Slovakia goalkeeper Martin Dubravka conceded a penalty in the second half when he tripped up Robin Quaison and RB Leipzig winger Forsberg made no mistake in beating him from the spot.
Sweden top the group with four points from two games, one ahead of Slovakia. Spain (one point) play bottom side Poland on Saturday while the final round of fixtures — Sweden v Poland and Slovakia v Spain — will be played on Wednesday.
Both teams threatened to score from set pieces early in the first half but Slovakia’s Juraj Kucka and Sweden’s Mikael Lustig saw their headers sail over the bar.
Sweden were compact at the back, as they were against Spain in their goalless opener, and it was centre back Victor Lindelof who was initiating their attacks with his distribution from a high defensive line, which was at times camped in Slovakia’s half.
Slovakia switched to a five-man defence when they were out of possession, frustrating the Swedes who were unable to string passes in the final third while Slovakia’s defence easily won the aerial duels.
Slovakia eventually made inroads into the final third towards the end of the first half as Sweden retreated but they lacked the creativity to make the final pass count and the first 45 minutes ended with neither goalkeeper tested.
Sweden started the second half on the front foot, with Alexander Isak and Forsberg having shots blocked in the first two minutes.
At the other end, Ondrej Duda found space to pull the trigger at the edge of the box but saw his shot fly inches over the crossbar.
Sweden’s Ludwig Augustinsson brought the crowd to life at the hour mark when he directed a powerful header on target but he was denied by a fine reflex save from Dubravka, who tipped it over the bar.
Isak turned things up a notch, leaping high to win a header which drifted agonisingly over before his nifty footwork allowed him to make solo run from his own half past three defenders to curl an effort that was parried away by Dubravka.
The 21-year-old Isak then turned provider which proved fruitful when he released substitute Quaison, who drew a foul from Dubravka in the box and Forsberg stepped up to convert the penalty and seal the three points.
De Bruyne scores winner as Belgium beat Denmark 2-1 to qualify for last 16
Kevin de Bruyne came off the bench to inspire Belgium in a 2-1 comeback win over Denmark on Thursday to clinch their place in the Euro 2020 knockouts on an emotional afternoon as both sides paid tribute to Christian Eriksen.
Denmark got off to a dream start when Yussuf Poulsen put them ahead after 99 seconds as the team rode a wave of sentiment over playmaker Eriksen’s cardiac arrest in their first game.
Denmark dominated the rest of the first half but Belgium turned to a bench bursting with talent and De Bruyne, who came on right after the interval, set up a sublime equaliser by laying on a pass for Thorgan Hazard to level in the 54th minute.
De Bruyne then completed the comeback by finishing off a another classy team move to thump the ball into the net in the 74th minute.
Denmark never gave up and had numerous attempts to equalise, with striker Martin Braithwaite hitting the bar with a header and narrowly failing to connect with a cross.
Belgium lead Group B with six points and became the second side in the tournament along with Italy to clinch their place in the last 16. Denmark have yet to earn a point and will need to win their final game against Russia and hope it is enough to get them through.
Both sides’ fans and players participated in a tribute to Eriksen before kickoff as a giant Denmark shirt with the player’s name and number 10 was displayed on the pitch.
The two teams then stopped for a moment’s applause in the 10th minute and the Danish crowd unfurled a banner saying: “All of Denmark is with you Christian”.
Denmark came alive in the atmosphere and pounced on a poor pass from Belgium’s Jason Denayer which allowed Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg to feed Poulsen, who fired into the bottom corner.
It was the second fastest goal in European Championship history, only trailing Dmitri Kirichenko’s for Russia against Greece in Euro 2004 after 67 seconds.
With 25,000 fans raising the roof at the Parken Stadium, Denmark continued to overwhelm their more illustrious opponents with rapid, direct attacks and should have added to their lead.
Joakim Maehle shuffled through the area to get close to goal before Belgium keeper Thibaut Courtois swiped the ball from his feet while Mikkel Damsgaard cut into the area and curled a shot just wide of the far post.
Belgium made the Danes pay for not increasing their lead.
Romelu Lukaku burst down the right hand side to take out two defenders and pass to De Bruyne, who showed remarkable poise to play in Hazard to score.
The Manchester City midfielder, who missed the start of the tournament with a head injury, then provided an unstoppable finish as his side’s superior talent shone through. (Reuters)