Sweden left it late as they booked a place in the semi-finals of Euro 2022 with a 1-0 victory over Belgium. An injury time goal from Linda Sembrant saw the world’s no. two side set up a meeting with England on Tuesday at Bramall Lane.
Sweden came into this match the clear favourites after coming through at the top of Group C. They had, however, been hit by injury and an outbreak of Covid that forced Peter Gerhardsson to announce a changed line up. Regular starters Hanna Glas and Jonna Andersson had tested positive earlier in the week while long-standing captain, Caroline Seger, had picked up an injury. It meant a makeshift backline was in place as Amanda Nildén made her first ever European Championships start and Sembrant came in at centre-back.
Belgium by comparison had squeaked through with a narrow win over Italy as they made the knock-out stage for the first time in their history. Despite this Gerhardsson was expecting to come up against a “very well organised team”. Ives Serneels made three changes as Marie Minnaert, Laura De Neve and Laura Deloose came back into the team.
The stakes were high as both sides emerged at Leigh Sports Village into the torrential rain, egged on by their hardy fans. The match began as expected, with Sweden dominating the ball. But Belgium seemed well prepared for a fight, looking to target the Swedish left on the counter-attack. They were, however, leaving the in-form Filippa Angeldahl space to operate in and it seemed likely that she would add to her tournament tally of two.
She was denied only by the inspired goalkeeping of Belgium’s Nicky Evrard. The semi-professional shot-stopper was having the game of her life, tipping an Angeldahl effort around the post before keeping out Stina Blackstenius at close range. The chances kept coming for Sweden but their luck in front of goal continued to desert them. Nathalie Björn turned a corner over the bar before VAR overruled a Blackstenius strike by the slimmest of margins. Evrard was called on twice more to keep the score level going into half-time. She blocked another Angeldahl effort behind at the near post before blocking a corner from Kosovare Asllani off the line.
The Swedish pressure continued to mount – in total, they amassed 34 chances to Belgium’s three. Evrard had to be alert from the restart to keep out a Fridolina Rolfö volley. The upright even conspired against them as Amanda Ilestedt’s looping header clipped the top of the bar. Evrard then pulled off the save of the evening, cat-like in her efforts to deny Blackstenius.
The introduction of Elena Dhont gave Belgium more of an outlet in transition as they sought to push forward. After Asllani’s ball was picked off, she broke at pace down the left to work the ball through to Tine De Caigny. The Belgian forward had the time and the space but fluffed her lines when it mattered most.
It appeared for all the world that the game was destined for extra time. In fact it seemed as if these two teams could play for two days and still not score. However, you can never sleep on a side of Sweden’s quality and they popped up when it mattered most.
Deep into injury time, Justine Vanhaevermaet conceded a corner down the left. Asllani mixed it up, sending in a deep delivery rather than going to the near post like she had all evening. Evrard made the initial stop but it fell in space to Sembrant to rifle home.
The defender, making her first appearance of the competition, was delighted at her feat. “We pushed really hard during the game”, she said. “I think in the second half, we really pushed for that goal and it is hard to describe my feelings when I saw the ball go in. It’s incredible and I just wanted to celebrate with the whole team so I ran towards the stand.”
It was the cruellest time to concede. Just seconds later, both sides sank to their knees. Those in yellow in delight that their European dreams were still alive; those in black despairing after a putting in a monumental effort. Sweden advanced to the next round, setting up an opportunity against the tournament hosts to play for a spot in the Final.