Marcus Berg hit a hat-trick as hosts Sweden got their 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship campaign off to a superb start with a 5-1 victory against Belarus at the Malmö New Stadium.
Berg came into the tournament with a glowing reputation and he was quick to prove why with three goals and a virtuoso display. Belarus opened the scoring with a long-range strike from Sergei Kislyak in the 33rd minute only for Sweden to hit back immediately, Aleksandr Martynovich deflecting in Rasmus Elm's effort to restore parity 60 seconds later before a Berg double on 38 and 44 minutes put the game beyond doubt. Further goals after the break from Berg and Gustav Svensson left a breathless home crowd with much to look forward to and the dream of seeing their side emulate the Netherlands who won this competition as hosts two years ago.
Initially, though, they had little to cheer. Having qualified automatically as hosts, Sweden had not played a competitive game at this level since October 2006 and they started tentatively. It took until the 29th minute for the Blågult to create a clear chance with Emir Bajrami stabbing the ball wide after a neat one-two between Berg and Ola Toivonen. Three minutes later Belarus struck first, Kislyak blowing the game open with a stunning strike from 30 metres.
Stung, Sweden responded in style. They had not managed a shot on goal up to that point, but suddenly they came to life with three goals in ten minutes. They were back on level terms within a minute when Elm's shot deflected in off the head of Martynovich. If that goal owed much to good fortune there was no doubting the quality of the second three minutes later, Berg jinking his way through three defenders before touching the ball beyond the advancing Pavel Chesnovski. The FC Groningen striker had not finished yet, adding Sweden's third just before the break when connecting first time with Toivonen's delightful chipped pass to drill in.
Belarus were first out at the start of the second half, intent on repairing some of the damage, and came close on 51 minutes when Kislyak fizzed another powerful strike just over. Assistant coach Georgiy Kondratiev, standing in for the suspended Yuri Kurnenin, followed that with a double substitution to liven up his attack. The team briefly rallied with Kovel twice drawing saves from Johan Dahlin in quick succession, but they could not turn the yellow tide.
With nine minutes to play, Martynovich and Chesnovski failed to deal with Elm's high pass forward and Berg coolly slotted the ball into the empty goal from the edge of the area to complete his treble. He was only denied a fourth by Chesnovski's diving save from his header, although there was still time for a fifth as Svensson curled in with a minute to play to ensure the hosts go into Friday's meeting against Italy with confidence soaring. Belarus have three days to regroup before tackling Serbia.