Sweden marched into the UEFA European Under-21 Championship semi-finals after a convincing 3-1 victory against a Serbia team reduced to nine men by the dismissals of Nenad Tomović and Nikola Petković.
The Blågult – or blue and yellows – powered into an early lead thanks to two-goal Marcus Berg, and though Gojko Kačar briefly reduced arrears, Ola Toivonen clinched the win after 29 minutes. The two sendings-off, coming either side of half-time, confirmed Serbia's fate. As a result the Swedes, requiring only a draw to advance, finished second in Group A to book a Gothenburg date with Group B winners England on Friday.
The contest had started, curiously enough, with Serbia on the front foot, led by captain Milan Smiljanić, as the team in red, blue and white strove to show complicity with their passionate fans. Soon, though, Emir Bajrami, Sweden's eye-catching left-winger, was setting his own side in motion, driving forward, before Berg turned Nemanja Pejčinović to continue the home momentum.
The same two players combined for the breakthrough. Bajrami crossed and Berg found space to turn the ball low under goalkeeper Željko Brkić from close range. A glorious day in southern Sweden quickly got even better for the hosts. Tomović was adjudged to have impeded Bajrami as he latched on to Toivonen's ball down the inside left of Serbia's penalty area. If Toivonen's break – a typical dashing run – deserved reward, it came with Berg's calmy rolled spot-kick, the striker's fifth goal of this championship.
Bajrami might have made it three but miscontrolled Rasmus Elm's cross, then Berg chipped over from Toivonen's headed pass. In between times, Kačar saw yellow – a colour the Serbians were already seeing enough of – for a rash challenge on Berg which sparked a collective difference of opinion. Kačar's luck briefly improved. After goalkeeper Johan Dahlin had touched the No4's free header on to the roof of the net, the midfielder turned in the resulting Miralem Sulejmani corner with his knees.
Yet Slobodan Krčmarević's team, needing a victory to progress, were struggling to cope with the force of Sweden's attack. Defensive errors by Jagoš Vuković and Nemanja Pejčinović transformed Elm's sideways ball into an assist for Toivonen, who clipped his finish beyond Brkić. Only a super Tomović tackle prevented Bajrami scoring. The sequel to this episode, however, was the Serbia right-back's trip on Bajrami which elicited a second booking. The fact Bajrami was also cautioned in the wake of the sending-off ruled him out of the semi-final along with Pontus Wernbloom who had been carded earlier.
Zoran Tošić flashed a shot over for the beleaguered Serbians, before Berg drew a save from Brkić. Toivonen teed up his No9 as Tommy Söderberg and Jörgen Lennartsson's charges kept the ball increasingly to themselves. The second-half statistics showed further Swedish near-misses by Toivonen and Elm and, for Serbia, a second red card – given to Petković for an infringement on Toivonen. The rest of the game was a procession for Sweden, the mood of whose supporters in a 19,820 Malmo crowd was hardly dampened by the news of Italy's group-clinching win against Belarus.