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Dejan Kulusevski has arrived and Euro 2020 should stand up and take notice

Robbie Copeland
Kulusevski is a star in the making
Kulusevski is a star in the making /

Prior to Wednesday's victory over Poland, Euro 2020 had been a frustrating tournament for Sweden prodigy Dejan Kulusevski.

Had Covid not struck in the build-up to the tournament, the 21-year-old - coming in off the back of a wonderful breakthrough season with Juventus - would have been in Janne Andersson's plans for their opening match with Spain.

But he was left watching the game back home in Sweden as his side stifled the world champions and started the tournament with a point.

A negative test in the days leading up to their clash with Slovakia meant he was able to rejoin the squad, but having had just two training sessions with his teammates, he was left on the bench. He had to sit on his hands as they laboured to an unconvincing victory over the side ranked 36th in the world, and though that was enough to essentially send Sweden into the round of 16, you could forgive Kulusevski for harbouring some frustration that he had so far played no part.

When he finally emerged from the bench, 55 minutes into their final game against Poland, those frustrations came to the boil in the most productive way imaginable.

Within moments it became clear that Sweden with Kulusevski in the side were an entirely different prospect. They led through Emil Forsberg's early strike, but the languorous rhythm they had settled into gave way to an explosive, driving desire to add to the scoreboard and finish the group stage with a bang.

That was spearheaded by Kulusevski, who within minutes of entering the game had run the entire length of the pitch to register himself an assist. He raced onto a loose ball deep inside the Sweden half and overpowered Przemyslaw Frankowski, before galloping forward, bamboozling Jan Bednarek, and laying one off to Forsberg.

The latter stroked in his second of the game, but he was in no mood to bask in the glory of his own wonderful finish. Instead, he was straight over to Kulusevski, congratulating him for one of the best assists you're likely to see at Euro 2020.

It proved to be something of a false start for Sweden, who found themselves on the ropes and pegged back by a glorious double from Robert Lewandowski that threatened their status as group winners.

On the form shown in their first two games, you might have expected Sweden to sit in and take the point. But with an unshackled Kulusevski on the pitch, they couldn't have done that if they'd tried.

Poland were obviously fearing the threat he posed - since coming on, he'd already completed more key passes than the rest of the Sweden team combined - so when he received the ball on the edge of the box, there were three players on him in an instant.

Did he panic under the pressure? Well, you should know the answer by now.

The fact that half the Poland defence were drawn to him freed up space for Viktor Claesson in behind, and without even looking, Kulusevski released a perfectly weighted ball into his feet. It was impossible not to finish from there, and with 90 minutes on the clock, Sweden had pipped Spain to top spot.

Sweden looked like a solid, disciplined tournament team when they came through the first two games unscathed, but they were lacking a spark. But Kulusevski's arrival on the scene certainly ignited them for 35 minutes against Poland, and with two assists to his name already, he could be the difference between a passive last 16 exit and a famous run deep into the tournament.

They will just have to take things one game at a time, and Ukraine up next is no gimmie for the Swedes. But now their talisman has finally arrived on the big stage, it looks as if they are packing quite the punch.