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Features

Emil at the Euros: Krafth wants to make it a Midsommar Night's Dream for Sweden

Written by Dan King

Following one of the country's biggest annual weekends of celebration, Emil Krafth is hoping to play a part in prolonging the party by helping Sweden to reach the quarter-finals of Euro 2020.

The Blågult take on Ukraine at Hampden Park on Tuesday night (kick-off 8pm BST) after finishing top of Group E, where they drew with Spain and beat Poland and club colleague Martin Dúbravka's Slovakia.

They got to the last eight of the World Cup three years ago and now they're looking to repeat the feat - and set up a clash with either England or Germany at Stadio Olimpico in Rome.

Earlier this month was Sveriges nationaldag, the national day of Sweden, while the two-day Midsommar (midsummer) festivities took place throughout the country this weekend, and Krafth - speaking to nufc.co.uk from the team's tournament base camp - insisted that they will approach the game with the intention of giving the nation even more to raise a glass to next week. 

"We have a good feeling. We won the group, ahead of Spain - I think nobody expected us to do that - and we have confidence for the next game now against Ukraine," he said. "We know it's going to be hard game; it doesn't matter which team you play against, any team after the group stage is hard game, and we'd like to play better football, but football is all about results. We've been winning, and won the group, so we're happy.

"It always gives you a confidence boost, winning games and winning the group. In a way, it would actually be better for us if we'd finished second - then we'd have played Denmark (in Amsterdam), and we could have had a lot of Swedish supporters, whereas now, finishing first, we're playing in Glasgow instead, where not many Swedes are allowed to go. 

"People living in Sweden can't travel abroad to the UK, so we're hoping Swedes who are living in Scotland, England and nearby will come to the game to support us as much as possible.

"Of course, Newcastle is not too far from Glasgow, so we would be very happy if (Newcastle fans) came and watched us - and if they can, bring a yellow shirt as well!".

Sweden's camp is in Gothenburg, in the south west of the country, meaning the squad are aware of the public's reaction to their fourth ever appearance in the knockout stages of the European Championships - and their first since 2004. Talisman Zlatan Ibrahimovic has missed the tournament with a knee injury, but the likes of Alexander Isak, Emil Forsberg and Victor Lindelöf have been among the competition's standout performers.

"You read all the news and you hear people talking about it," said Krafth. "I think they have higher expectations of us now, because we did very well in the last World Cup. They expected us to get through the group - maybe not winning this group like we did, but they have higher expectations than before, I would say. 

Sweden secured top spot in Group E with a thrilling 3-2 win over Poland last week

"But that's something we like as a team - to play under pressure. We want people to have high expectations on us because I think we're a really good team, so that's good."

While belief is high in Sweden, Ukraine finished third in Group C, sneaking through with the three points they picked up against North Macedonia in their second match, and Krafth admitted: "I think we're a little bit favourites, maybe, but as I said it doesn't mater which team we got - all the games now are very, very tough so I think we need to do a really big performance to beat them.

"They have the potential to go through as well; they have really good players all over the pitch, but I think if we can do a very good performance, we could go through to the quarter-finals."

Janne Andersson's training sessions over the last few days have been focused on achieving exactly that, but there have also been some lighter moments, including video footage which emerged of Krafth being flicked in the head numerous times by his team-mates last week.

"We have one-touch game before training, and the one who loses gets a flick round the ear or on the forehead or on the nose or something," Krafth explained. 

"I'm actually quite good at it, but sometimes you're unlucky and you lose, and you have to take your punishment. I was just unlucky they got it on the photos and on video!".

Midsommar is a celebration of the summer solstice, where people eat, drink, pick flowers and sing and dance around maypoles over two days - Midsommarafton and Midsommardagen (midsummer day).

In the midst of a European Championships, the national team players' festivities were relatively subdued, but they still enjoyed a trip to a lodge to mark the occasion.

"We had a team lunch together, then went back (to the base) and played a little bit of golf in the afternoon, then on the evening we had the meal that you eat on the Swedish midsommar, and some barbecue as well," explained Krafth.

The traditional food is sill (pickled herring), served with potatoes, gravlax (cured salmon), chives, sour cream and knäckebröd (crisp bread), with jordgubbstårta (strawberry cake) for dessert, and Krafth added: "That's one thing I miss when you are here - to celebrate midsommar with your family and friends, because it's a good tradition we have and it's really nice to see all your friends and have a few drinks.

"But it wasn't too bad to be here and relax for a day, be with the boys and do what you wanted to do during the day. 

Krafth has appeared in all three of Sweden's Euro 2020 games so far (photograph courtesy of Svenska Fotbollförbundet)

"It's very intense during the time here and if they can give you one day off once in a while, it's very good to relax your body and relax your brain from everything, and not think about football. I think that helps us very much, not just being focused on football all the time. You need some time off from football sometimes."

Krafth, though, is enjoying his football right now, and life too. He finished last season strongly, starting the final four fixtures and helping to keep two clean sheets in three victories, as well as scoring his first goal for the club in a narrow defeat to champions Manchester City, and although he's yet to start a game at Euro 2020, he came off the bench in all three group matches. 

"At the end of the season, me and the team performed really well and I came here into the Euros with good confidence. We (he and his partner, Lina) are expecting another kid in September, so everything looks good and I'm very happy," he smiled.

"It's been a long season - since I came to Newcastle, we've had two seasons in a row (due to Covid-19) and then you jump into the Euros, so I'm looking forward to some time off to see friends and family after the Euros, because I haven't seen my daughter for a month now. Of course you miss them and you want to spend some time with them when you have your days off after the Euros. Then you hopefully will come back fresh to the pre-season and for next season.

"But when you come this far, you want to go all the way. We want to try to push ourselves to the limit and go as far as possible." 

"That's something we like as a team - to play under pressure. We want people to have high expectations on us because I think we're a really good team."

Emil Krafth

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