By Tim Dykes in the Stadion Niederrhein
Serbia and Montenegro secured their place in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship final and with it a ticket to the Olympic Games after defeating Sweden on penalties in Oberhausen.
A calm 35th-minute finish from Sweden's Babis Stefanidis looked to have been enough to eliminate Vladimir Petrovic's side but a thunderous 90th-minute drive from Milos Maric took the game into extra-time and after all ten regulation spot-kicks were scored, Stefanidis had his sudden-death attempt saved by Nikola Milojevic to give Serbia and Montenegro the narrowest of victories.
Sweden coach Torbjörn Nilsson switched back to a full-strength lineup, with only Tobias Hysén and Patrik Gerrbrand from the side that won against Switzerland retaining their starting places. Vladimir Petrovic made three changes to the Serbia and Montenegro team that started in the win against Belarus, bringing in defender Branislav Ivanovic, midfield player Nikola Mijailovic and NK Zagreb striker Radomir Djalovic.
Although Johan Elmander's strong running and close control caused the Serbo-Montenegrin defence problems from the referee's first whistle, it was Petrovic's side that enjoyed the lion's share of early possession and only a perfectly executed tackle by Gerrbrand denied Djalovic a chance to open the scoring with the game just eleven minutes old.
Maric's industry in midfield fuelled the Serbia and Montenegro side as they dominated the second quarter of an hour. Andrija Delibasic saw his powerful 20-metre free-kick tipped over the bar by John Alvbåge, then Dragan Stancic steered a low effort just wide of the Swedish goalkeeper's left-hand post and Delibasic's goalbound header from Maric's corner was headed off the line by Stefan Ishizaki.
The pendulum soon swung in the Swedes' favour, however, and seconds after Hysén sidefooted straight at Milojevic having been played in by Ishizaki's clever 34th-minute chip, Nilsson's side took the lead. Elmander's hard work released Stefanidis and the Djurgårdens IF midfield player had time to pick his spot and tuck the ball past Milojevic.
Wonderful interplay resulted in Delibasic nodding agonisingly wide of the target as the pace of the game increased after the interval and Djalovic watched in disbelief as his header crashed against the crossbar. Next Elmander drew a fine save from Milojevic after charging through three challenges on the break and unleashing a venomous left-footed drive. But just as Sweden sensed a place in the final, Maric delighted the bank of Serbo-Montenegrin fans with his sweet finish.
In a pulsating period of extra-time, Maric had a curling effort deflected on to the woodwork and Milovanovic had a penalty appeal turned down before Ishizaki clipped a free-kick against the post at the other end and Markus Rosenberg, on for Elmander, was denied at point-blank range with the follow-up. Both sides battled gamely, but in the end only spot-kicks could separate them.