Swedes Czech in to back Blågult squad

Sweden fans will follow their team in force in the Czech Republic – UEFA.com caught up with some and found them determined to enjoy both the local culture and the football.

Sweden can expect passionate backing in the Czech Republic
Sweden can expect passionate backing in the Czech Republic ©Sportsfile

The quality of the football, the beauty of Prague, the reputation of the beer, and the prospect of seeing 'the new Zlatan' have all tempted Sweden fans to head to the Czech Republic to follow their side.

Around 1,000 Denmark fans feted their country's success against the hosts inside the Eden Stadium on Wednesday. Not to be outdone by their Scandinavian cousins, Håkan Ericson's men can expect similar backing when they open Group B against Italy.

"We love football and support Sweden! And it's like a holiday combined with good football — and good beer, of course," said Tobias Nilsson, one of a group of five to have travelled from Vaxjo to Prague, en route for their nation's matches in Moravia. "We have high expectations in Sweden. People think we've got a good team."

Those hopes were raised when, having come through qualifying thanks to a late goal against Turkey, Sweden gave their fans more than a few nail-biting moments in overcoming France, whose generation had been mooted as potential winners of the 2015 U21 EURO title.

"It's not that often that the U21s qualify for this tournament. The game against France was really special. It made me think, 'I have to go to the EURO to support them'," said another of the group, Andreas Bengtsson, on Prague's famed Charles Bridge. "No one thought we would beat France."

Few outside of Sweden expect them to come through a group that also features England and record five-time U21 EURO winners Italy. However, with 11 of the squad having already featured for the senior team, optimism that the Blågult can clinch a semi-final berth, and qualify for the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, remains high in their native country.

"We beat France, a strong team, to qualify for here. So we have a chance of going through, but it's going to be tough. England, Italy and Portugal, they're strong. It's the toughest group," said Henrik Nilsson, who believes midfielder Oscar Hiljemark and defender Alexander Milošević can help fill the massive void Zlatan Ibrahimović will leave when the 33-year-old superstar retires from international football.

"We need to see who is going to follow in Zlatan's footsteps. The squad now playing in the U21 EURO is important for us. We need to find the new Zlatan, a new backbone for our national team. We need to fill his shoes in some way."