Håkan Mild tells UEFA.com how the U21 EURO is giving the Sweden squad priceless experience and a winning habit that could serve them well for years to come.
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'The winning habit' is a phrase often used in football, but it is a phenomenon devilishly difficult to acquire and trickier still to retain. As part of the Sweden squad that reached the U21 EURO final in 1992, Håkan Mild knows just how important it can be.
With Patrik Andersson behind him and Tomas Brolin ahead, Mild was an integral cog in the engine room as Sweden overcame a hotly fancied Netherlands side in the semi-finals before only narrowly failing to defeat Italy over the two legs of the final.
Despite their ultimate disappointment, Mild and his team-mates had gained a level of experience and self-confidence that they employed to staggering effect as they surprised the world in finishing third at the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the United States.
"I believe in '94 and even after that, it was really great because we got used to winning, and we knew we could compete with the big countries," Mild said in the press room at Prague's Letná Stadium ahead of Saturday's all-Scandinavian semi-final with Denmark. "We were never afraid. We played against teams that were better than us individually, technically, but as a team, we could beat anyone."
It is a trait common to Håkan Ericson's squad, who proved they have little respect for reputations in pipping a powerful France side to a place in the final tournament. They then bounced back from an early red card to defeat Italy, before clinching a last-four berth just when a late Portugal goal looked to have extinguished their hopes.
Mild added: "
There must be a great spirit in the team. When you look at it from the outside, it seems they like each other and fight for each other. At the start of qualifying, they weren't playing so well, they weren't very well organised. There were a lot of goals that came after mistakes. Now, you don't see that very much. So the coach has worked very hard on creating a good team spirit."
When asked about the current crop of Swedish talent, it is perhaps no surprise that Mild, an industrious midfielder in his playing days with IFK Göteborg among others, names those who make Ericson's team tick – Oscar Lewicki and captain Oscar Hiljemark – as the players who have impressed him most.
Mild also highlights the potential of Ludwig Augustinsson — "a fantastic left-back in the future" — and striker Isaac Kiese Thelin, who will be part of the Swedes' attempt to defeat their neighbours, follow in the '92 side's footsteps and feed that all-important habit.
"If they do it, it'll be very important, very good for Swedish football," explained Mild, who will co-commentate the game on Swedish radio. "They have already done something very good for a Sweden team by reaching the last four. But if they win, it would be fantastic."