Sweden fought back from a goal down to beat Honduras 2-1 in the final day of action at the Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium. The Scandinavians, playing in their first FIFA U-17 World Cup, are now through to the semi-finals where they will face either 2011 runners-up Uruguay or mighty Nigeria for a second time at these finals.
The last game from the peaceful desert oasis began slowly. The Swedes, who’ve played three of their four games in Al Ain, had most of the possession. The Hondurans sat back deep waiting for the right moments to burst into the counter-attack and make best use of their superior speed.
Sweden got the first chance after 17 minutes. A long cross from the left was missed by centre-back Anoal Hernandez, and Valmir Berisha just missed making it 1-0 as he failed to get good contact while sliding at full-stretch for the ball. Ten minutes later and again it was the Scandinavians going close when Captain Linus Wahlqvist rose highest in the penalty area only to smack his powerful header against the bar.
Those misses came back to haunt the Swedes too. Predictably Honduras’ opener came on the break. A long, hopeful ball from deep in midfield picked out Brayan Velasquez racing into space. He muscled his way past Erdal Rakip and Johan Ramhorn couldn’t quite cover the danger, as his sliding challenge was too late. Velasquez clipped the ball into the top corner from a tight angle while off balance. It was the Central Americans’ first shot on goal.
The Hondurans came out in the second half trying to slow the game down and protect their slim lead. But after 68 minutes, Swedish patience and determination paid off. Pressing at the edge of the Honduran box, Gentrit Citaku flicked a delicate through ball into the penalty area for Rakip, who made no mistake with a cool slotted finish past Hernandez to draw the scores level.
Sweden coach Roland Larsson decided to go straight for the jugular, making an attacking double substitution minutes after his side equalised. In came Anton Saletros and Carlos Strandberg to inject a little extra pace. And they had an immediate, and profound, impact on the proceedings.
Strandberg broke up the right and put a cross-field ball over to the left for Saletros, who pulled it back across the face of goal. The service was a little behind Berisha, but the combative forward who models his game after Zlatan Ibrahimovic, let it run through his legs and flicked it home into the side netting with his heel.
Honduras pressed and pressed in the dying minutes of the game, but they couldn’t find the goal that would have kept their Cinderella run here in UAE going. Instead, it’s the debutant Swedes who are heading for dreamland and a date with either Uruguay or Nigeria in the semi-finals.