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Wahlqvist optimistic for Sweden future

Sweden's Linus Wahlqvist told UEFA.com his nation could build on the success of their 2013 UEFA European Under-17 Championship debut despite missing out on the final.

Sweden impressed on their finals debut
Sweden impressed on their finals debut ©Sportsfile

Linus Wahlqvist told UEFA.com that if Sweden had broken the semi-final deadlock then it would have been his side and not Russia looking forward to the prospect of the 2013 UEFA European Under-17 Championship final.

Roland Larsson's team enjoyed the better of the opportunities in the first half of Tuesday's last-four encounter in Zilina, striking a post and forcing some good saves from Russia goalkeeper Anton Mitryushkin. Erdal Rakip's dismissal early in the second half meant Sweden had to rein in their attacking instincts, and after going out 10-9 in a thrilling penalty shoot-out, Wahlqvist acknowledged not having found the net before the break had proved costly.

"We played really well today. We played so well in the first half, and Russia didn't have any chances. We had one off the post, one off the line. We defended really well after the red card. But someone has to lose, and it was us today," the IFK Norrköping centre-back said. "We defend really well as a team. If we had scored, we would have won."

Part of an impressive back four, perhaps Larsson's side would have more luck in front of goal had Wahlqvist stepped across the halfway line himself. The 16-year-old's deftly chipped spot-kick, his country's second in the nail-biting finale, bore the hallmarks of a self-belief which belies his tender years, a character trait which was evident in his matter-of-fact explanation. "I saw the first penalty when Isak [Ssewankambo] scored. The keeper went down early, so I just chipped it. It was easy," he said simply.

Having impressed on their finals bow at this level, Wahlqvist and his team-mates are now confident they can match their peers. Though the disappointment of missing out on Friday's final was still keenly felt, Larsson's squad already have their next objective in mind; the FIFA U-17 World Cup in the United Arab Emirates next autumn.

"We have done really well. It's the first time Sweden have been to the U17 finals. We reached the last four. We are on the European map now," Wahlqvist said. "I think we can play as well at the World Cup as we did now. We have a great team spirit. We love being together."