Sweden’s industrious approach to their first two Euro 2020 games may not have got anyone’s pulse racing, but thanks to a rock-solid defence and the threat posed by Alexander Isak they have now racked up four points and two clean sheets. After a rugged and determined goalless draw against Spain in Seville, the Swedes eked out a 1-0 win over Slovakia on Friday in St. Petersburg, with the 21-year-old Isak making the difference.
The young forward, who also posed a threat against the Spanish, tormented his Slovakian markers all afternoon before substitute Robin Quaison won a penalty that Emil Forsberg converted for what could turn out to be a vital win.
Isak has all the ingredients his strike partner Marcus Berg seems to be lacking at Euro 2020: electrifying pace and a bag of tricks that enabled his side to gain the upper hand in the final third of the match against Slovakia.
With four points in the bag, Sweden must now fancy their chances of reaching the knockout stage at the Euros for the first time since 2004, having made three successive group stage exits since then.
There is nothing pretty about their style but they can plausibly claim that it paid dividends in the 2018 World Cup, when they reached the quarter-finals before losing 1-0 to England.
The Slovakians, by contrast, will see the setback as a golden opportunity missed to seal a last-16 berth with a match to spare.
A win would have seen Slovakia through to the business end of a major tournament for the third time after they advanced to the last 16 in the 2010 World Cup and the 2016 Euros, their only two previous involvements on the big stage as an independent nation.
But having pulled off a 2-1 win over Poland in their opening match, they got punished for a cagey approach against the Swedes devoid of any attacking intent.
Only a string of fine saves from goalkeeper Martin Dubravka and another superb display by centre back Milan Skriniar kept the Swedes at bay before Slovakia succumbed in the closing stages.
Demanding consistency from a modest squad whose most talented individual, Marek Hamsik, is probably in the final stage of his playing career may be a tall order, and Slovakia now face the task of taking on Spain in their final group match.