England will play in the UEFA European Under-21 Championship final for the first time since 1984 after surviving a rousing three-goal Sweden comeback to oust the hosts in a penalty shoot-out following an epic meeting in Gothenburg.
Neither side has an impressive semi-final record, England losing five of their previous seven ties – including in a shoot-out to hosts the Netherlands two years ago – while Sweden had won only one of three. The weight of history initially sat lighter on England's shoulders as they ruthlessly exposed Sweden's inability to defend corners in the first period, Martin Cranie, Nedum Onuoha and a Mattias Bjärsmyr own goal seemingly putting them in Monday's final. Marcus Berg's 68th-minute strike revived the Swedish challenge, however, Ola Toivonen adding another before Berg turned in a sensational equaliser nine minutes from time. England lost substitute Fraizer Campbell to a red card in the first additional period and Berg was denied his hat-trick by the crossbar in the second before the drama of the shoot-out, where Guillermo Molins hit the post with Sweden's sixth kick to send England through to a final against Germany.
Much had been made in the build-up of Sweden's fallibility at set-pieces and within 60 seconds that weakness was exposed, Cranie left unmarked to collect James Milner's right-wing corner and fire in. The Sweden fans were out in force, many sporting shirts with Larsson, Ljungberg and Ibrahimović on the back, but it is a new generation of stars who have caught the imagination in this tournament and they responded well, Toivonen drawing a diving stop from Joe Hart with a curling free-kick.
Onuoha on target
Berg, the tournament's top scorer, then temporarily misplaced his radar, directing a header too high from a Rasmus Elm cross. The signs were promising for the hosts but once again a failure to defend set-pieces cost them dear in the 27th minute, Onuoha steering a shot inside the post despite the attentions of a posse of defenders. Seven minutes before half-time England won their fourth corner, and duly converted it. Although Johan Dahlin punched away the initial kick, Theo Walcott retrieved the ball and swung in a cross that was flicked on by Lee Cattermole, the unfortunate Bjärsmyr diverting beyond his own goalkeeper.
Cattermole came close to adding a fourth before Molins cleared Cranie's header off the line from another Milner corner to keep Swedish hopes alive. The substitute then had an impact at the other end, crossing for Berg to turn in and revive the home crowd, and the Gamla Ullevi was jumping when Toivonen beat Hart with a free-kick 15 minutes from time. Another Molins cross was flicked back by the third substitute Robin Söder for the ever-alert Berg to thump into the roof of the net and complete an extraordinary fightback, although Mikael Lustig might have won it without the need for extra time, heading over from a 90th-minute free-kick.
The additional period brought no shortage of drama, and a red card for Campbell for a second bookable offence. Berg met Gustav Svensson's cross with a looping header that rebounded off the crossbar with Hart motionless, the goalkeeper also touching Harbuzi's shot over as England clung on for penalties. There Milner and Berg both failed with their sides' first attempts, but thereafter the conversion was faultless until Molins struck Hart's right-hand post with the 12th kick. England's triumph came at a cost: Campbell, Gabriel Agbonlahor and Hart – cautioned during the shoot-out – will be suspended for Monday's final in Malmo.