AROUND THE NET, UEFA NEWS — July 15, 2012 at 8:57 am

Diaz swoops in extra time to claim title for Sweden


UEFA July 14, 2012

Malin Diaz struck a 108th-minute winner as Sweden finally etched their name on the UEFA European Women’s Under-19 Championship trophy.

A tense, competitive final in which both teams enjoyed periods in the ascendancy looked destined for penalties when, after almost an hour of Spain pressure, Elin Rubensson broke down the left. For once, she lost Ivana Andrés and delivered a low cross that Dolores Gallardo could only spill into the path of the onrushing Diaz, who fired into the empty net.

If the group stage draw between these sides six days ago amounted to sparring between heavyweight boxers according to Sweden coach Calle Barrling, then it was quickly apparent that this was the real deal. Amanda Sampedro, Virginia Torrecilla and Alexia Putellas all rose gingerly off the canvas after strong, but fair, early challenges as Sweden snapped into tackles, starving Spain of the possession on which they thrive.

With the lively Diaz buzzing in from the right and Rubensson and Pauline Hammarlund ever willing to spring out of the shadow of the last defender, Sweden took the initiative. Yet Spain, playing deep, rolled with the punches and began to land the bigger shots themselves. Andrés’ header was kept out on the line and Raquel Pinel, starting after her match-winning turn off the bench against Portugal three days ago, twice went close.

Sweden lost Therése Boström 11 minutes before half-time but came alive as an attacking force, with Jennie Nordin squandering a header and Hammarlund poking wide. Save for an early long-range effort that bounced the wrong side of the post, Rubensson, the five-goal leading scorer who has illuminated Antalya over the past fortnight, was struggling to get into the game. Indeed, the final was staying more faithful to another statistic, a record low of 25 goals in the 14 previous games making this a tournament for defenders.

With the ball on the ground, both back lines, fortified by their midfields, looked impervious. Anything aerial prompted a sense of vulnerability, on the other hand, especially for Sweden. Midway through the second period, Jessica Höglander brilliantly turned Torrecilla’s header around the upright, but she was helpless five minutes later when Putellas fired a free-kick against the woodwork. By now it was all Spain, but Diaz, who owes her name to a Chilean parent, delivered an almighty sucker punch.

Sweden, runners-up to England in 2009, have finally broken their duck. Fittingly, it was the theme from Rocky that accompanied their walk up the steps to collect their trophy.

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