Team Sweden gives them something to talk about, advance to European Championship for first time since 2005

In the immortal words of Bonnie Raitt, let’s give ’em something to talk about.

That’s what quarterback Philip Juhlin and Team Sweden were hoping to do heading into the European Championship semi-final. They were tired of hearing about their devastating loss in the 2018 bronze medal game to rival Finland or reliving the exploits of the gold medal-winning 2005 team, the last time Sweden had stood on an IFAF tournament podium. It was time for a new Swedish football team to carve out a place in the conversation.

They did just that on Saturday, defeating that same Finnish opponent 22-14 in the very same stadium they fell short three years ago, securing a berth in the European Championship game and a medal in one of two possible colors this year.

While Team Sweden ultimately gave everyone something to talk about, initially their performance was a little mystery to figure out. Juhlin and Sweden’s much talked about passing offense got started early, with Edvin Taborda picking up 39 yards through the air on the first play from scrimmage. The Finnish defense held firm however and Timmy Göransson was unable to convert on the ground in the red zone to force a turnover on downs.

Team Sweden QB Phil Juhlin finding running room Photo: Jari Turunen

Finland’s rushing attack had no such difficulties. Three plays later, the offensive line opened up a gaping hole up front and running back Karri Pajarinen was off to the races, breaking through a diving tackle from the safety and rumbling 90 yards for an opening score. It would be just the first early mistake from the Swedes, as Juhlin underthrew his first pass on the next drive and Viljo Lempinen intercepted. Quarterback Miro Kadmiry delivered quickly with a 44-yard dime to Johannes Jauhiainen, who overcame a slew foot attempt from Victor Garcia to score the touchdown and make it 14-0.

Finland’s offensive momentum finally stalled late in the first quarter when a scrambling Kadmiry was picked by Garcia just outside the red zone, but the Swedish offense failed to claim any of their own. It took a nearly perfect punt from Juhlin to be downed at the one and some exceptional tackling by safety Nicholas Pettersen on Tuuka Lehtonen to get the Swedes on the board with a safety. But, as is the way with talented offenses, it only took one play to get back in it. Late in the second, Juhlin rolled right and threw deep across his body, finding a wide open Taborda. The receiver went for an easy 81-yard touchdown romp, cutting the deficit to five at the half.

Team Sweden WR Edvin Taborda #8 hauling in the ball Photo: Jari Turunen

While Taborda provided a spark, it failed to ignite after the intermission. Both teams fell silent through the third quarter, with a missed field goal attempt from Jacob Gorecki the only highlight. That changed dramatically in the final frame. Juhlin flipped the switch with his legs, taking the read option straight up the middle for 27 yards. After help from a defensive pass interference penalty, the quarterback backed it up through the air by dropping it in the bucket for Kevin Börszei for 29 yards and Juhlin punched it in himself from the one-yard line, giving Sweden a one-point lead after a failed two-point convert.

Linebacker Mathias Eriksson ripped the ball loose from Mikko Seppanen on the ensuing kickoff, but Sweden had to settle for another Gorecki field goal attempt on the extra possession. The kick clanged off the right upright, but Finland couldn’t counter after a bad Jauhiainen drop and an errant throw from Kadmiry on fourth down. The Swedes had no such issues as Joshua Akena picked up 32 on a little dump off from Juhlin and Timmy Göransson hammered it in the final yard to extend the lead.

A big Micky Kyei return got Finland across half to start the next drive, but the Swedish defense was ready for the challenge. Big Gogi Vasic picked up a huge sack and Victor Garcia picked off a duck from backup Ambro Urjansson to all but clinch the game. Sweden ran out most of the clock and Kadmiry’s final hail mary was harmlessly knocked away, securing the 22-14 victory and Sweden’s first European medal since 2005.

Philip Juhlin was just 9 for 26 passing with one interception, but he came up with the big plays when needed, throwing for 243 yards and one touchdown on those nine passes. The quarterback added 55 yards and a score on the ground as his team’s most explosive weapon. Edvin Taborda had two catches for 120 yards and a touchdown, while Timmy Göransson had 10 carries for 27 yards and a score on the ground. Mathias Eriksson led the team with 14.5 tackles and Victor Garcia posted two interceptions.

Team Finland QB Miro Kadmiry #7 getting the ball off Photo: Jari Turunen

Finland failed to get anything going after the first quarter and Miro Kadmiry finished 8 for 25 for just 71 yards, a touchdown, and a pick. Karri Pajarinen only had three carries for 103 yards and a touchdown, but the bulk of Finnish production was on the ground. Lehtonen had 18 carries for 79 yards and Barrow added 12 for 55. Roni Salonen led the Finn defense with nine tackles, while Viljo Lempinen had an interception.

Team Sweden now advances to the European Championship, where they will likely face Team Italy after the other semi-final was canceled due to COVID-19. The Swedes have firmly changed the narrative around the national team, but will still need to determine exactly what people will be talking about.

Forget about love, how about a gold medal?

J.C. Abbott is a student at the University of British Columbia and amateur football coach in Vancouver, Canada. A CFL writer for 3DownNation, his love of travel has been the root of his fascination with the global game.