Lewandowski brace in vain as Sweden eliminate Poland in thriller
Forsberg and Lewandowski both scored twice before a last-minute Claesson winner decided this five-goal thriller in Group E.
Sweden clinched top spot in Group E thanks to a brace from Emil Forsberg and a late Viktor Claesson strike in a thrilling game that really came to life in the second half. Poland and their talismanic captain Robert Lewandowski, who scored both their goals, were left heartbroken as they were consigned to last place and eliminated from Euro 2020.
Forsberg struck in the 2nd and 59th minutes as Sweden, who had already qualified, asserted control over their largely clueless opponents. But the script flipped in a frantic last half-hour. Lewandowski, who had missed an open goal in the first half, scored in the 61st and 84th minutes to set up a tense finale. But as Poland chased a third in this must-win game, Claesson hit them with the sucker punch.
The Krestovsky Stadium played host to this encounter on a very warm evening in St. Petersburg. Both sides made one change each from their previous fixtures, with Sweden’s coach Janne Andersson replacing Marcus Berg with Robin Quaison in attack, while Poland’s Grzegorz Krychowiak was recalled after a one-match suspension in place of Jakub Moder.
Contrary to their previous fixtures and pre-match expectations, Sweden began brightly on the front foot and were rewarded after just 82 seconds. Some good work by Alexander Isak saw him bring the ball under control inside the box. A challenge from a Polish defender saw the ball squirt out to Forsberg, who ghosted past Jan Bednarek before angling a composed low finish into the far corner for Sweden’s first goal from open play in the tournament.
Sweden should have had a second 10 minutes later, but Bartosz Bereszynski’s brilliant block thwarted Isak. Then, in the 17th minute, came the most abysmal miss from the unlikeliest of sources.
From a corner, Lewandowski connected with a vehement downward header that bounced off the ground and hit the underside of the crossbar. What happened next was truly farcical. The rebound bounced up in front of the Polish striker who, from three yards out, again headed onto the crossbar. The rebound from that then saw the ball get lodged between his feet, from where a Swedish player hacked clear.
The miss preceded a period of Polish dominance as they looked for an equaliser. But they were unable to find the final ball and the sides went off at the break with Sweden still in the lead.
After the restart, Poland picked up where they had left off and it required a smart save by Robin Olsen to keep out a Piotr Zieliński screamer from range. Zieliński and the halftime sub Przemysław Frankowski became increasingly influential but Poland were still unable to penetrate into the Swedish box.
Sweden needed to freshen things up. Robin Quaison had been influential in the first half but faded after the break, and he was replaced by Dejan Kulusevski. Kulusevski, who plays for Juventus, is one of the most exciting young talents in Europe and immediately made an impact on the game.
After a Polish attack broke down, Kulusevski countered with furious pace down the right flank in the 59th minute. At the corner of the box he shifted inside, ran across the face of goal, feinted to shoot and then flicked a pass to Forsberg, who thwacked home for his second of the game. Sweden had a two-goal lead and looked home and hosed.
But Lewandowski had other ideas. Straight after the goal, Zielinski threaded a pass through the Swedish backline for his captain to pick up and carry into the left hand side of the box. As Victor Lindelof looked to block, Lewandowski cut inside and unfurled a rasping, venomous curler from 20 yards into the top right corner. Olsen had no chance.
Now it was Sweden who looked wobbly in defence. Poland had a goal disallowed for offside and their dominance was rewarded in the 84th minute. A cross from Frankowski was misjudged by the Swedish defence and there was Lewandowski again, making no mistake from six yards out. Almost single-handedly, he had dragged his team back into contention and they now needed just one more goal to book their place in the last 16.
As the Poles probed for the elusive winner, however, they fell victim to the final twist in the tale. Again, Kulusevski was the architect, executing a lovely pirouette before slipping in Claesson. The substitute, brought on for Forsberg in the 77th minute, swept inside the near post to provide a fitting finale for this captivating match.
Sweden ended up unbeaten and top of the groupgroup with 7 points. Their reward will be a round of 16 match with one of the third-place finishers from another group, with the match to be played in Glasgow on Tuesday.
While Poland fought hard in this game and previously held Spain to a draw, their losses here and against Slovakia cost them. They ended up in last place with a single point and will leave the Euros with Slovakia, who were trounced 5-0 by Spain.