Håkan Ericson's Sweden have carried their strong qualifying form into 2015, as attested by two recent friendly wins, and can approach the U21 finals with optimism.
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Sweden have carried their winning ways from 2014 into the new year which augurs well for their tilt at the UEFA European Under-21 Championship in the Czech Republic in June.
Including their dominant Group 7 campaign and successful qualifying play-off against France, Håkan Ericson's team won four of their five competitive matches of the last calendar year – and they built on that foundation with two friendly victories at the end of last month. On 27 March the Scandinavian side – drawn in Group B at the forthcoming finals alongside England, Italy and Portugal – beat Serbia 1-0 in Novi Sad before overcoming Russia 2-0 four days later during a run-out at their training camp in the Antalya region of Turkey.
Particularly impressive was the performance against fellow U21 finalists Serbia, vanquishers of Spain in the play-offs. Away to tough opposition, Sweden got a morale-boosting result courtesy of Randers FC forward Mikael Ishak who pounced on a loose Serbia back pass to slot home on 35 minutes. They preserved that lead thanks to some stellar second-half goalkeeping from Patrik Carlgren, not least when denying Goran Caušić in the 87th minute. Coach Ericson was not surprised by the AIK Solna custodian's heroics. "We played three on three in training and it was still 0–0 after four games – I've never seen anything like it. Our keepers have been marvellous, and it's nice for Patrik to get to show it during a match situation."
Against an inexperienced Russia team in Belek, Jacob Rinne of Örebro SK played between the posts and another clean sheet followed. Sweden's two goals came from Celtic FC striking loanee John Guidetti, after three minutes, and BK Häcken midfielder Simon Gustafson midway through the first half. Both players had sat out the Serbia fixture but are likely to be crucial to their country's prospects in two months' time. "We played really well for 20–25 minutes," said Ericson, 54. "After that we should have maintained our intensity, but honestly speaking we didn't. But I can't be too demanding when we feel we are the better team and get the early goals."
For the double-header Ericson had called up one player previously uncapped at this level, Modou Barrow who is on loan at Nottingham Forest FC from Swansea City AFC. However, the forward dropped out through injury, joining some of Ericson's regulars on the spring casualty list. Even so, defenders Alexander Milošević, Emil Krafth and midfielder Kristoffer Olsson all hope to be fit and available come June. Isaac Kiese Thelin, Robin Quaison and Filip Helander are other likely candidates for Ericson's finals squad who did not feature, in their case having been drafted by Erik Hamrén for senior international duty.
The Blågult (Blue and Yellows) begin their U21 glory bid on 18 June against Italy in Olomouc before tackling England at the same venue three days later. Their group campaign concludes in Uherske Hradiste, versus Portugal.