Sweden edge past Slovakia thanks to Forsberg penalty

A 1-0 victory saw Sweden replace Slovakia at the top of Group E and take a huge step towards the round of 16.

A well-taken Emil Forsberg penalty in the 77th minute, after Slovakia goalkeeper Martin Dubravka brought down substitute Robin Quaison, carried Sweden to a 1-0 victory in a largely subdued encounter in St. Petersburg.

A tepid first half saw both teams produce very little in terms of scoring opportunities, with Sweden largely in control for the first 30 minutes and Slovakia taking some initiative in the last 10 minutes of the half as their opponents grew weary. A dour stalemate looked the most likely outcome as the pattern continued into the second half.

But the game came to life on the hour mark as Sweden upped the tempo, with Forsberg and the excellent Alexander Isak creating several chances. Dubravka pulled off a brilliant save and watched a couple of shots fly wide, but his luck ran out when Quaison got to the ball before him. The referee waved the yellow card and Forsberg coolly slotted home from the spot, allowing Sweden to hold on for a comfortable last 10 minutes.

For this first ever meeting between these sides at a major tournament, Slovakia coach Stefan Tarkovic made a couple of changes in midfield to the starting lineup from their 2-1 win over Poland. Sweden’s Janne Andersson, on the other hand, sent out the same team that had held Spain to a goalless draw.

The first and best chance of the first half came in the 3rd minute when Swedish captain Sebastian Larsson’s shot from outside the box took a deflection and forced Dubravka into an awkward save. The rest of the half was a dull affair, with TV cameras picking out a couple of fans fast asleep in the stands at half-time.

The second half began in much the same way, with a 50th minute Ondrej Duda effort from range that flew just over the Swedish goal providing a rare highlight. Slovakia had another chance in the 59th minute as Juraj Kucka got his head to a freekick from the left and was denied by an excellent Robin Olsen save, although Kucka was then flagged offside.

The latter effort woke up the slumbering Swedes, who instantly replied with a Larsson cross that Ludwig Augustinsson met with a powerful header from six yards. Dubravka kept it out with an outstanding one-handed save and watched as, from the resulting corner, Marcus Danielson nodded just over from close range.

Alexander Isak had shown flickers of quality in the first half but really came into his own after the hour mark. The Real Sociedad forward – adjudged La Liga’s young player of the year last season – showed quick feet and clever movement, with his six dribbles here the most by any player in a match at the tournament so far.

The best of the lot came in the 71st minute, when he received the ball in the centre circle and, with a blend of skill, strength, balance and cleverness, dribbled past three defenders before thrashing a low shot from the left-hand corner of the box. It took another fine save from Dubravka to thwart a lovely solo goal.

Fittingly, it was Isak who played the reverse pass for Quaison that led to the penalty. Dubravka dived the right way but Forsberg’s placement was perfect. With 13 minutes left, Slovakia belatedly tried to increase the pressure but Sweden held firm. The stats showed that Slovakia failed to muster a shot on target in the entire match.

Sweden will play their final match against Poland knowing that it would take a highly improbable chain of events to halt their progress to the next stage. Slovakia, on the other hand, face Spain in their last fixture and will probably need at least a point to avoid elimination.