Sweden and Slovakia have not crossed paths for more than 15 years, but each will know the value of a winning finish to Group A when they meet in Lublin.
• Zlatan Ibrahimović was on target the second and last time Sweden played Slovakia in a competitive Under-21 fixture – a 4-0 home win in Enkoping in qualifying for the 2002 finals. On 1 June 2001 Sweden’s all-time senior international record goalscorer got a 48th-minute opener with Kim Källström (73) and Pontus Farnerud (84 pen, 88) also finding the net.
• Slovakia had earned a 1-1 home draw in Bratislava on 10 October 2000, Pavol Sedlák’s 63rd-minute strike cancelling out Mikael Dorsin’s breakthrough ten minutes earlier.
• Sweden also prevailed against Czechoslovakia in the 1990 quarter-finals, played over two legs – again winning the home game 4-0. The first leg in Prague had ended 2-1 to the visitors, with their subsequent home success in Vaxjo completing a 6-1 aggregate Swedish triumph; Tomas Brolin scored in both legs.
• The Slovaks won six of their eight qualifiers and suffered only one defeat to finish five points clear at the top of qualifying Group 8. Adam Zreľák finished as the leading scorer with five goals, one more than Martin Chrien.
• Slovakia’s sole previous U21 finals appearance came in 2000, when they came fourth on home soil having qualified via the play-offs. A team featuring Kamil Čontofalský, Vratislav Greško, Radoslav Zabavník, Marek Mintál, Szilárd Németh, Karol Kisel, Peter Hlinka and Martin Petráš beat Turkey and England in the group stage to finish second in their section and, with no semi-finals, progressed to a third-place play-off where they were beaten 1-0 by Spain.
• Czechoslovakia reached the U21 quarter-finals on six occasions, but never went any further in the competition.
• Holders Sweden claimed their first U21 title in the Czech Republic two years ago. A squad including Victor Lindelöf, Ludwig Augustinsson, Oscar Lewicki, Oscar Hiljemark, John Guidetti and Isaac Kiese Thelin were placed second behind Portugal in Group B to set up a semi-final with neighbours Denmark, won 4-1 by Håkan Ericson’s side. Portugal were then beaten 4-3 on penalties in the Prague final after a goalless draw.
• This is Sweden’s eighth appearance in the final tournament, including: a runners-up finish in 1992, semi-finalist showings in 1990, 2004 and on home soil in 2009, quarter-final losses in 1986 and 1998, before they finally lifted the trophy two summers ago. Therefore, in their four appearances since the tournament expanded to an eight-team event in 1998, the Swedes have got to the knockout rounds every time.
• In qualifying for this edition, Sweden finished a point above Spain atop Group 6, winning seven of their ten games and drawing three – making them one of six countries to qualify unbeaten.
Coach and player links
• Linus Wahlqvist was in the Sweden side that drew 0-0 with Slovakia in the group stage of the 2013 European U17 Championship. Denis Vavro, Tomáš Vestenický, Nikolas Špalek and Miroslav Káčer figured for Slovakia.
Pavel Hapal, Slovakia
A left-sided midfielder whose attacking instincts made him a regular goalscorer, Hapal spent six years at Sigma Olomouc across four spells, helping the club reach the 1991/92 UEFA Cup quarter-finals before moving to Germany and Bayer Leverkusen. He also had a stint in Spain with Tenerife and represented both Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic at international level, breaking his leg a month before EURO ‘ 96.
Having retired aged 32 in 2002, he moving into coaching the following year, working in his Czech homeland and Poland and enjoying success with three Slovak clubs – Nitra, Senica and most notably Žilina, whom Hapal guided to the league title in 2010 and the UEFA Champions League group stage the next seasons. A coach whose sides are based on a strong unit and fighting spirit, he took over the U21 national team in January 2015.
Håkan Ericson, Sweden
Ericson’s father Georg led Sweden to the 1974 and 1978 FIFA World Cups; his son’s playing career was curtailed by injury at the age of 22. Ericson Jr accepted his first coaching assignment two years after being forced to hang up his boots, taking charge of fourth-division FC Kick in his home town Norrkoping. Steady progress over the years led to his appointment at IFK Norrköping – one of his father’s old clubs – in 2002.
After several years working as a coaching instructor with the Swedish Football Association (SvFF), he joined Tommy Söderberg at the U21 helm, assuming sole command in 2013. He steered the team to U21 EURO glory in 2015, Sweden’s first-ever men’s continental title.