A fairy-tale 12 months, and a play-off success against France, have convinced Sweden forward Isaac Kiese Thelin that "anything is possible" for his side at the finals.
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Sweden may be the unfancied outsiders in Group B, but their centre-forward Isaac Kiese Thelin would surely agree that in football, anything can happen.
That has been the lesson of the past 12 months for the 22-year-old, who has enjoyed a meteoric rise to prominence. This time last year he had just left Swedish top-flight club Norrköping – where he was in and out of the first team – for Malmö, signing for a modest fee. At that point he had yet to play any part in Sweden's qualifying campaign, yet today he comes into the UEFA European Under-21 Championship as one of their main players after a year that even his coach, Håkan Ericson, described on Wednesday as "a fairy tale".
"I brought him into the Under-21 team in the summer in a friendly and two weeks after, he went to Malmö," Ericson told UEFA.com. "He then played in the Champions League with Malmö and is now in Bordeaux."
It was certainly quite an autumn for Kiese Thelin. As well as playing UEFA Champions League football with Malmö, his four goals at the end of qualifying for the U21s included a double in the 4-1 second-leg victory over France with which the Swedes overturned a two-goal deficit in the play-offs. It was a display that earned him not just his senior Sweden debut last November but also a move to Bordeaux, who paid a reported fee of around €3.8m for the tall, strong striker – more than 50 times what Malmö had paid seven months earlier.
Reflecting on the repercussions of his U21 feats against France, he told UEFA.com: "Of course, a lot of people watched the game in France and it really helped me to be where I am today."
Where he is on Thursday will be leading Sweden's attack alongside John Guidetti against Italy in Olomouc. His experience of the UEFA Champions League – where he played twice against Juventus – has given him the belief to face any opposition. "It was a good experience to play against the best teams in the world and to be able to do it and to feel you can do it is really good for your confidence," he said.
As for the Swedes' self-belief, that comeback against France means they will face the Italians without fear. "Absolutely – we feel anything is possible after that game," Kiese Thelin added. "We're playing a really good team but we still believe in ourselves. I think they will have more possession and we will have to be good in defence and go on the counterattack."
Kiese Thelin's role will be to hold the ball up and provide an out-ball for his team. Although a heel injury meant he was unavailable to play for Sweden's senior squad last week, he is expected to start against Italy and Ericson underlined his importance, saying: "He is a very good target player. He is always in the box for us to make crosses but he also has very good technique." That will be needed if Sweden are to write their own fairy tale at the finals.