The final

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The final

The final

Sweden become heroes of their time

The Sweden celebrations in Netanya kicked in to the theme of the nation's winning entry for the year's Eurovision Song Contest. We Are The Heroes Of Our Time may have been an appropriate anthem for the country's second triumph at Women's Under-19 level but there were many pieces to the jigsaw that had to come together for them to get their hands on the silverware.

She has so much confidence as well as maturity and awareness that puts her a cut above the rest
Hope Powell on Stina Blackstenius

Following their 2012 success – also achieved in a final against Spain – Calle Barrling "polished his diamonds" enough for them to sparkle on the big stage again, taking command of the game with a balance of combination and physicality, while making their chances count through the nous and physical maturity of Stina Blackstenius, their No9.

Blackstenius would act as the 'trigger' for Sweden's attacking play and a towering ambassador for their threatening potential. But Spain didn't display the qualities that had enabled them to reach the final, low on intensity and occasionally dependent on looking to play direct balls into the channels.


Sweden celebrate final success

In the very first minute, Nuria Garrote swung a lengthy pass out towards the left-hand side and rather than being a surprise play, it proved to be a more constant feature than most had expected. Sweden would sit back and revel in the winning of the first battle.

The next was taken up by Blackstenius. First, the forward darted out to the right to tease the Spanish defence in possession and within minutes, was hugging the opposite touchline with equal menace. Seemingly omnipresent, she climbed highest to clear from a defensive corner and then troubled Spain with an astonishing burst of individuality.

"It's very difficult to deal with a player like that," Spain coach Jorge Vilda would later concede, echoing the words of his German counterpart Maren Meinert just three nights before in the same stadium. "It's like playing against a team with Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi in it – when they're that much better than the rest, it's hard to get hold of them."


Blackstenius 'like playing Ronaldo or Messi'

And so it proved. Spain had forced some penalty area pinball by applying pressure in the 23rd minute that was only diffused by a long and hurried clearance from Ronja Aronsson. Finding Blackstenius isolated 40 metres up the field didn't faze the striker, who both engaged and defeated Rocío Gálvez in a foot race to the penalty box before clipping her delicate finish onto the roof of the net.

"She has so much confidence as well as maturity and awareness that puts her a cut above the rest," said UEFA technical observer Hope Powell. "So much of it is about her, her movement, timing and the way that she drops off the shoulder of her last defender."

For all of her buzzing activity, though, it was almost innocuously that Blackstenius broke the deadlock in Netanya, arriving at the far post to bundle home a corner, of which Aronsson and Lotta Ökvist had debated the taker.

Spain had fallen behind for the fourth successive game and the scale of their task would soon double when the scorer's Linköping club colleague Tove Almqvist skipped in an arc around the penalty area's periphery and planted a sumptuous centre onto the head of the No9 for her sixth of the finals.

"She has a role in which she will create chances and score goals and she is magnificent in that," stated the coy Barrling after the match. "But she has also improved in her cooperation with other players this year and her way to create chances. She has always been strong and very fast but she has improved tactically and in skilfulness."

So domineering a presence was Blackstenius that it was often easy to downplay the role of the 21 others with whom she shared the field. Confidence boosted by her two penalty saves in the semi-final shoot-out against Germany, Emma Holmgren took command of her box, decisive in both judging and punching away the aerial balls. The Sweden structure ahead of her remained true to previous fixtures.

Watch highlights of the final above

Spain struggled to replicate the neat technical intricacy that had seen them qualify from a tough group and then emerge from a tricky semi-final against France. Fatigued both from their four previous outings and the energy required to halt the powerful Swedes, they struggled to penetrate with a series of square, patient passes and found it harder to move the pace of their game through the gears as the clock started to work against them.

Sandra Hernández was ushered up between the midfield and forward lines behind Nahikari García as the second half progressed while Sweden operated a 1-4-5-1 with Linda Hallin dropping deeper into the midfield before being replaced by the industrious Filippa Angeldal with 22 minutes still to play. There were changes too for the team in red. Laura Ortega was withdrawn from attack in favour of Laura Domínguez, on the left side of the attacking trident, and Paula Mañoso stepped in for only her second appearance of the finals at the expense of Andrea Sánchez.

Within a minute of the second alteration, Spain had halved their arrears. Out of kilter with what had gone before, Garrote accelerated to the dead-ball line on the right-hand side and clipped a delightful ball beyond Holmgren for Hernández to head into the empty goal.

The attritional nature of the contest was beginning to take its toll. Almqvist had been replaced just before the goal soon after receiving treatment for cramp; captain Nathalie Björn was in the wars and had treatment to the head and face twice before coming off; and Spain's perilous situation had already necessitated a switch to three at the back.


Spain goal offered brief hope

Sweden's structural changes were minor, safe in the knowledge that while Blackstenius had space to run into, they would be a permanent threat as spaces appeared in the opposition half. The scorer turned provider in the clinching moment, coasting for the dead-ball line and locating the onrushing Angeldal to defeat Elena De Toro and catalyse raucous celebrations.

"Sweden have the ability as a team to use their moment of transition really well," explained UEFA technical observer Hesterine de Reus. "They have skilful players in midfield who are able to deliver a good pass towards an extremely good striker, who made very well-timed runs to make the difference, although Spain's approach was helpful to them."

And so, Sweden mounted the podium to collect the trophy and accept the adulation from a crowd of 7,230 as 'heroes of their time'. In a year of FIFA Women's World Cup disappointment, the opportunity to transfer this success to the Swedish senior team is among Calle Barrling's imminent challenges, as well as the Under-20 World Cup in Papua New Guinea next year.