“Let’s try that question again,” Sweden captain Elias Andersson, blond-headed and friendly, told FIFA.com as he tried to ignore the noisy taunting and teasing of his teammate Gustav Engvall. The Swedish skipper, shaking his head and smiling, barely kept a straight face as he carried on with the interview.
The two players have a connection, a close friendship is obvious, and it carries over onto the football pitch. “We link up very well on the field,” said Andersson, who set up two of Sweden’s four goals in their 4-1 rout of Iraq in Al Ain, both of them finished off by Engvall. It’s a sentiment the scorer shares, his joking manner and catcalls turning to genuine affection for his on-field provider. “Elias is my guy,” he said, an earnestness taking over the default teenage goofy-ness. “I know his passing very well, so I try to combine with him as much as I can. It always seems to work.”
Elias is the deliveryman of the two, an understated creative midfielder who likes to build from deep. His vision is excellent for a player so young. “I like to have the ball; it’s just the kind of player I am,” he said, clearly uncomfortable complimenting himself. “We need to score goals to win games and my way of helping is by creating assists and setting up the goals,” the Helsingborgs youth player said. “I am a little bit like the assist king in the team,” he added with a giggle, his faltering English making him sound more boastful than intended.
If he’s a little hesitant in an interview situation, there’s an intensity and single-minded purpose to Andersson when he’s playing. In truth, the Swedes were outplayed by Iraq in the first half of their opener. But Andersson provided a moment of genius that turned the tide of the game. In the 36th minute, after being pegged back in the opening exchanges, he collected the ball at the corner of the penalty area, bamboozled his marker with a clever step-over and burst to the goal-line. His low cross flew to the feet of Engvall, who made a hash of his first touch before quickly recovering to score
Assist King and Goal King
So if Andersson is the assist king, then his mate Engvall is the goal king for these Swedish juniors. But before the Goteborg forward can get a word in edgewise, his captain and provider pipes up. “Yeah, he always seems to score in games, but he never scores in training,” he smiles, taking a little dig at his mate, getting a little fun vengeance for his earlier interruptions. “I mean never…but he is a pure scorer in the games,” Andersson added, getting serious about the striker’s skills. “Even if his first touch isn’t perfect, he just finds a way to get the ball in. He’s always in the right place and always does the right thing.”
Engvall agrees with a laugh at his own expense. “It’s true, I don’t score too many goals in training,” he admitted. “But I do score a few in the games! And I would rather be doing that than scoring hat-tricks all day in practice.”
His first finish of the game had a farcical quality to it, as the ball bounced straight up in the air after a poor first touch. He had to re-control after a deflection and then eventually push the ball over the line. “But they all count,” he quickly added. “The pretty goals don’t count more than the ugly ones!” The lanky forward’s second goal in the 67th minute was, however, an elegant piece of genius. Andersson’s searching ball from midfield picked out Engvall, who looked to be out of luck with a pair of defenders hounding him. But his first touch this time was perfection as he collected the ball and turned, all in one motion, between the Iraqi defenders and into the penalty area. He slid on the grass to direct his shot gently inside the far corner.
It was a goal of subtle genius, and Engvall – a character and a cut-up – wouldn’t miss out on the opportunity. “Now that you mention it, it was a beautiful goal,” he laughed. “Just another one of my beautiful goals!” Somewhere down the hall, his pal Andersson was rolling his eyes.