Oscar Hiljemark marked the Swedish Midsummer with a win over Italy and a special strawberry cake but the Sweden captain does not want the celebrations to stop there.
Article top media content
It is more than 20 years ago that Arne Hegerfors, a commentator with Sweden's state broadcaster, SVT, uttered a line that has gone down in history for Swedish football fans. "Now we're celebrating Midsummer in the Pontiac Silverdome!" he declared excitedly.
The fact he was in Detroit was incidental – it was June 1994 and Martin Dahlin had just scored the final goal in Sweden's 3-1 win over Russia, their first on a memorable run to the FIFA World Cup semi-finals in the United States.
For Swedes this time of year – Svensk Midsommar – is a special moment in the calendar and although they are a long way from home in Brno, Sweden's Under-21 footballers are no different. Like that 1994 World Cup side, Håkan Ericson's men had a victory to celebrate Midsummer with on Thursday – the 2-1 opening Group B win over Italy – and they marked the big day itself on Friday with a taste of home.
There was pickled herring on the menu at lunchtime and a special strawberry cake (Jordgubbstårta) in the afternoon – albeit no schnapps. "That was not an option today – today was milk and water!" said team captain Oscar Hiljemark, who explained that were it not for the U21 EURO he would probably be dancing around a maypole with flowers in his hair.
"I would be with my girlfriend Elin and her twin sister in Kalmar," the PSV Eindhoven midfielder told UEFA.com at the squad's hotel. "She is on the coast and it is pretty big over there – they have a Midsummer pole you run around and you sing songs. That is what I am missing out on, but I had a really good day yesterday so it compensates a little bit!"
It certainly does. Sweden were considered the Group B outsiders before the first ball was kicked but Hiljemark said the opportunity to prove people wrong had brought the best out of them. "It is a trigger to know that people and the media don't really expect anything – for us it is amazing to go out and be able to show everyone we actually are a team with really good qualities," he said.
A goal and a man down against Italy, Sweden were even less fancied at that point but Hiljemark cited as the key to their recovery the same resilience and mental strength with which they overturned a 2-0 first-leg deficit against France in the play-offs.
"When results are against us this group is made for those situations, we love it – it makes everybody work even harder and go in even harder for each other," he said. "It is a fantastic feeling to play as captain for a group like this. You know when you look to your left or your right you always have a guy willing to do the work for you."
Looking ahead to Sunday's meeting with England, Hiljemark acknowledged that England will be the team with "a little bit of pressure on their shoulders" but said Sweden's approach must remain the same.
"In this type of tournament the first game is really important but if you win two, then it is fantastic. It is important on Sunday to step up and show we are a team to count with when opportunity knocks." If they take that opportunity, it really will be time to celebrate.