UEFA Euro 2020’s round of 16 came to a close at Hampden Park in Glasgow where over 9000 fans saw Ukraine dispatch of Sweden 2-1 after extra time. In what was often a cagey match, the defining moment was certainly the red card to Swedish defender Marcus Danielson in the 99th minute, which totally flipped the script for the remainder of extra time.
Before getting into the negatives, I’d feel wrong not mentioning Emil Forsberg. He was brilliant for Sweden once again, playing all 120 minutes and constantly threatening. Forsberg equalized in the 43rd minute after a deflection carried his long-range effort past Ukraine goalkeeper George Buschan for his 4th goal of the tournament. He was about 8 inches from a hat-trick as he struck the post in the 56th minute before hitting the crossbar just 13 minutes later. The Leipzig man completed 3/3 dribbles, won 4/7 duels, and made 2 key passes in another wonderful performance.
What went wrong for Sweden
The above-average positions are from the match against Ukraine. While watching this game, something that really confused me was how deep Isak continued to drop deep to pick up the ball. Throughout the group stage, Isak was paired with Robin Quaison or Marcus Berg, players who are more comfortable checking and asking for the ball to feet rather than stretching defences with pace. In this match, Sweden deployed both Isak and Kulusevski, two direct players that can stretch defences.
This decision alone was a great one. Ukraine has struggled to defend in transition, so stretching that defence with two pacy strikers would theoretically make Ukraine sit even deeper, allowing Sweden more time on the ball and more opportunities for someone like Forsberg to pick up the ball and run at the defence. This idea didn’t play out as expected.
The average positions above are from Sweden’s 3-2 victory against Poland on the final matchday of group E. Two things become apparent when comparing the average positions from these matches: Sweden’s shape is very defined, and their strike partnership is asked to play a certain way regardless of who’s in the game. In the Poland match, Quaison started with Isak, which allowed Isak to play the more forward role and cause havoc running in behind as the highest man.
What didn’t translate in this game vs Ukraine was Alexander Isak’s skillset. Asking a pacy player like Isak who excels at dribbling and finishing to drop deep to pick up the ball and immediately play it on is a waste of that talent. There were many times when Isak would drop deep to pick up the ball, move it out wide, and then a cross is whipped into the box where no Swedish players were attacking it. Removing a 6’4 clinical striker from these positions severely hinders your ability to score goals.
Isak had his chances, missing a golden opportunity in the 60th minute after a great lofted ball from Albin Ekdal. It may have been called back for offside, but that summed up his day effectively. He was decent in the first half and collected an assist after a nice run, but as he dropped deeper in the second half, he struggled to influence the game and became ineffective. Sweden may well have troubled Ukraine if both Isak and Kulusevski stretched them vertically rather than one dropping deep.
Despite this tactical blunder, Sweden found themselves right in it until the 99th minute. Then, Central defender Marcus Danielson made a horror challenge on Artem Biesiedin which deservedly earned him a straight red card, totally altering the balance of the match. Just 2 minutes after making 3 attacking substitutions, Sweden was in dire need of a defensive stand if they wanted to hold on and force a penalty shootout. Sweden held firm despite total domination from Ukraine for the last 20 minutes until 24-year-old Artem Dovbyk nodded home in the 120+1′ to send Ukraine through.
How Ukraine Won The Tie
Oleksandr Zinchenko, that’s how. In all seriousness, the Ukraine players put in total shifts all night long, including another great performance from Andriy Yarmolenko which included an assist, his 4th goal contribution in 4 matches in this tournament. The whole team deserves credit for what was a spirited performance, winning the possession battle, taking more shots, having a higher xG, and overall deserving to advance. But seriously, let’s take a moment to appreciate Oleksandr Zinchenko.
Zinchenko took his goal wonderfully, smashing home on the volley after a dinked cross from Yarmolenko. He took the assist equally as well, whipping an absolutely exceptional ball into the box for Dovbyk to nod home from close range. His heat map tells the story, really. He dominated the left-hand side, even drifting centrally at times to influence the game. He was stout defensively and scintillating going forward. The 24-year-old dazzled on both ends and led his country to a major quarterfinal for the first time since 2006.
Ukraine was comfortable letting Sweden possess the ball for large portions of the match, sitting deep and asking them to instigate, something the Swedes were clearly uncomfortable doing. The outcome may have been different if not for the red card, but Ukraine will take the win and now turn their attention to Friday, where they’ll meet England in the quarterfinals.
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Main Image Credits-Embed from Getty Images