Two years after Sweden won the Olympic Games in London, the Swedish FA lobbied FIFA at the 1950 World Cup in Brazil to give them the World Cup eight years later. The lobbying paid off.
The next project for the Swedish FA was to find a coach and a team worthy of competing, a task made difficult as for a number of years as they banned professionals from playing for the national side.
However, in 1956 they wisely changed that rule as they realised their amateurs had fallen behind the standards of the professional game worldwide.
On the coaching front they turned to Englishman George Raynor, who had coached Sweden to gold in 1948.
Sweden’s star players played for clubs in Italy’s glamorous Serie A including captain Nils Liedholm who was the captain of Milan.
He was excellent on and off the ball with a wide range of passing and played mostly as an attacking midfielder for both club and country.
Nils was part of the side that won gold in London in 1948 and ten years later at nearly thirty-six years of age he was looking to lift the most important prize in football in his own country.
1958 was a big year for Liedholm, he helped Milan reach the European Cup final where they lost out to Real Madrid in extra-time.
That left him with ten days to recover from that disappointment to face Mexico in the opening game of the World Cup.
Sweden were attacking from the start whilst the Mexicans struggled to get any kind of control in the game.
A superb piece of play in the box from the captain Liedholm gave him space to cross to Agne Simonsson who poked home, the local crowd were overjoyed with what they were saw from the hosts.
Sweden continued to press for more goals in the second half and with just under half an hour remaining, winger Hamrin wins a penalty which Liedholm stepped up to convert to make it two nil, but the referee orders him to re-take it — that’s no problem for Nils who smashes it home:
What Happened Next?
Sweden won 3-0 and their success continued all the way to the final.
They grabbed impressive wins against the USSR and West Germany in the knockout stages to set up a dream final against Brazil. The South Americans had been the darlings of the Swedish crowds too.
Pele and Garrincha proved too much for the Swedes in the final despite them taking an early lead through Liedholm.
During the match the Swedish players and fans kind of just accepted their fate as runners-up and Brazil earned the applause and adulation of the hosts. It proved to be Sweden’s best ever performance in a World Cup.
Liedholm retired from international football after the final and played for Milan for three more years. His management career proved nearly as successful as his playing one.
He won numerous trophies with Milan and Roma but suffered heartbreak again in the European Cup when his Roma side lost on penalties to Liverpool in the 1983 final. He died in his home in Italy in 2007.
Some good footage of Liedholm for Milan here:
Colour footage of the 1958 World Cup final: