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Sweden all but assured their progress into the knockout of the Euros for the first time since 2004 with a controlled display in Saint Petersburg.

And it was their rising young star Alexander Isak – the young player of the year in La Liga this season and a talent coveted by some of Europe’s top clubs – who was the difference in an otherwise dour encounter.

He provided the inspiration for victory over ultra-defensive Slovakia, with a driving second half display where he was a constant threat, and eventually provided a brilliant ball which produced the match-defining penalty.

Isak at just 21 is regarded as one of the best young players in the world, and he has been strongly linked with Arsenal.

Here in Russia he probably added several noughts to the price tag, with another brilliant display, that had his Sweden coach Janne Andersson purring.

SAINT PETERSBURG, RUSSIA – JUNE 18: Emil Forsberg of Sweden celebrates with Robin Quaison after scoring their side's first goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Championship Group E match between Sweden and Slovakia at Saint Petersburg Stadium on June 18, 2021 in Saint Petersburg, Russia. (Photo by Kirill Kudryavtsev – Pool/Getty Images)
(Image: Getty)

“Yes, he was the quality we needed, it’s good to see him on the pitch, he’s a huge, huge talent,” he said.

“He’s still a young player who has much more to learn, but I think he can grow even more – he played a great game for us, he was a real inspiration and he will only get better.

“I think all our forwards deserve great credit. We were poor in the first half, but we created so much in the second, and our attack deserved more rewards – they were fantastic at times.”

Isak was the player who stood up to be counted for the Swedes as they looked for inspiration, following a disappointing first half, where Slovakia played doggedly for the point which would have virtually guaranteed their own progress.

Soccer Football – Euro 2020 – Group E – Sweden v Slovakia – Saint Petersburg Stadium, Saint Petersburg, Russia – June 18, 2021 Sweden's Emil Forsberg scores their first goal from the penalty spot Pool via REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
(Image: REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov)

Sweden were poor, but they found intensity and passion after the break, with Isak producing several chances with his tricky running and burst of pace around the box.

Newcastle keeper Martin Dubravka produced perhaps the save of the tournament so far to deny Ludwig Augustinsson, and Isak put a good header just over, while another fine run saw him denied by the Slovak number one.

But in the 75th minute, Slovakia finally cracked, when Isak dinked a brilliant first time ball into the box, and sub Robin Quaison beat Dubravka to it, to win a penalty coolly converted by Emil Forsberg.

How far can Sweden go at Euro 2020? Have your say in the comments below

Manchester United’s Victor Lindelof then led a stout Swedish rearguard to confirm the victory, and now only a near impossible series of results can deny them progress into the knockout rounds.

Slovakia, for their part, had little when asked to attack, and their coach Stefan Tarkovic admitted: “We were far too passive, and we didn’t match the physicality of Sweden.”

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