The cost of success for shorn Swedes

  • Sweden shocked Germany to reach the FIFA World Cup Final today in 1958

  • Result caused Nils Liedholm and Kalle Svensson to regret a pre-tournament bet

  • That 1958 campaign remains a high point in Swedish football history

Nils Liedholm loved his sleeked back hair. He was prepared to put it on the line, however, for a sure-fire bet.

When a reporter optimistically asked the AC Milan midfielder whether Sweden could reach the 1958 FIFA World Cup™ Final on home soil, he chuckled dismissively before replying: “If we do, I’ll shave my head!” Goalkeeper Kalle Svensson, stood beside Liedholm, laughed and added: “I’ll do the same!”

Liedholm and Svensson were 35 and 32 respectively. Another of their most influential figures, Gunnar Gren, who had along with Liedholm and Gunnar Nordahl formed their legendary Gre-No-Li triumvirate of the 1940s, was now 37. The consensus was that Sweden were well past their best. Besides, pre-tournament favourites West Germany, Argentina and Brazil had emerging nations such as England, France and Soviet Union for company.

Buoyed by terrific home support at the Rasunda Stadium, Sweden beat Mexico 3-0 and Hungary 2-1, before a goalless draw with Wales sent them through to the knockout phase as Group 3 winners. Staying in Solna, goals from Kurt Hamrin and Agne Simonsson then earned George Raynor’s team a 2-0 win over Soviet Union.

The Swedes were now one step away from the Final. Liedholm and Svensson were one step away from losing their locks – and, ironically, the pair played crucial roles in ensuring they did. Svensson made superb saves from West Germany attackers Helmut Rahn, Hans Schafer, Uwe Seeler and Fritz Walter, while Liedholm’s invention inspired Sweden to a shock 3-1 victory in Gothenburg.

Liedholm and Svensson were thrilled, although that delight was partially diminished when they were reminded of their pre-tournament bet!

After losing their hair, they then lost 5-2 to an exhilarating Brazil side in the decider, despite Liedholm giving them an early lead in front of King Gustaf VI Adolf at the Rasunda. Regardless, Raynor and his charges were undoubted winners in the eyes of a nation.