It wasn’t as lopsided as the scoreline suggests, but Sweden kept their nerve to win out 4-1 despite being dominated for large stretches of their opening FIFA U-17 World Cup match against Iraq in Al Ain. The Swedes, playing in their first world finals in this age category, now move into a share of top spot in Group F alongside smashing Nigeria.
Iraq put on all the early pressure, hitting out on the break early and often against the nervous-looking Swedes. But in football, no matter what the age level, you need to take your chances. And Iraq did not. After squandering a handful of half-chances in the first quarter-hour, Ahmed Nadhim was denied by some fine goalkeeping in the 18th minute.
The Al Zawra midfielder raced to edge of the box and unleashed a powerful drive that was dived away, only just, by Sixten Mohlin in the Swedish net. Almost predictably, the Scandinavians turned the tables in the 36th minute. Hardly having had a sniff at goal, they took the lead when a clever give-and-go saw the ball fall to captain Elias Andersson.
He burst into the box, stepped over the ball brilliantly, and crossed low across the face of goal. Gustav Engvall’s first-touch had a disastrous quality to it, but he regained the ball, kept his composure and poked into the back of the net to see the Europeans take a 1-0 lead into the locker-room at halftime.
The Swedes continued to apply pressure as the second-half got underway, but this time the Iraqis were the ones to score against the run of play. Basher Resan chipped in an elegant, lofted pass at the edge of the area that Captain Mohammad Salem collected on his chest with his back to goal. He then swiveled and volleyed on the turn into the side netting to a roar of appreciation from the crowd in the 54th minute.
In a topsy-turvy affair, the Swedes went ahead again though. A long incisive ball sent up through midfield from Andersson picked out Engvall, and this time his first-touch was absolutely sublime. He slipped in between two defenders and slid the ball home into the far corner in the 68th minute. Sweden added a third in the 72nd minute when, after a scramble in the Iraqi area, the ball bounced high in the night air for substitute Anton Saletros, just into the match, to head home from close in. One more header was to come for the the Swedes when, in the dying minutes, Ali Suljic nodded home a free-kick at the back post to make it 4-1.
Up next for Sweden is a date with rampaging section leaders Nigeria, who scored for fun against Mexico in their opener, on 22 October. Iraq, who can take confidence in a strongish performance, will meet up with the Mexicans earlier that same day.