It all came down to one toss.
Sweden, locked in a struggle for its European life with football powerhouse Holland, needed a win to advance to the finals of the 2012 UEFA European Championships in Poland and Ukraine. Minutes after falling behind 2-1, the blågult tied the score and were looking for more when the ball went out of bounds inside the Dutch defensive part of the field.
Swedish defender Mikael Lustig went to take a throw-in and that’s when it happened.
The toss.
It wasn’t Lustig or any player who made it, but a sharp eyed ball boy, who got a new ball to Lustig before the Dutch could set up their defense. Lustig quickly put the ball in play, finding Ola Toivonen cutting through the disorganized Orange line. Toivonen, who plays in Holland for PSV Eindhoven, took two steps and fired a blast past Dutch goalkeeper Mikael Vorm that ensured Sweden’s spot in the European Championships.
"I got the ball really quickly from the ballboy," said Lustig, a member of the Sweden squad that reached the 2009 UEFA European Under-21 Championship semi-finals. "That kid should take some of the credit for the goal. This is the best thing that's happened to me. To help your country to qualify for a final tournament, it's fantastic."
Sweden went into the match Oct. 12 needing a win to advance to the finals. Grouped with Holland, Finalnd, Hungary, Moldova and San Marino, Sweden was solidly in second place in the standings. However, only the best overall second-place team would advance to the tournament. The others would have to play in a home-and-home winner-take-all playoff series. Only a victory would allow the blågult to avoid the playoff, and at first the task was daunting.
Holland had a perfect record in the qualifiers of 9-0-0 while Sweden entered the match with seven wins and two losses. The Dutch had surrendered just five goals in those nine matches while scoring 35. Sweden also went into the game missing several stars, including striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
Playing before a packed house at Råsunda Stadium in Solna, the Swedes found inspiration from the crowd and needed just 14 minutes to take the lead. Kim Källström, who plays for Olympic Lyon in France, blasted a free kick past Vorm for a 1-0 lead. It took the Dutch just nine minutes to respond.
Holland left-back Erik Pieters found space to send in a deep cross and striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar out-jumped the Swedish defense to head the ball past Andreas Isaksson to pull Holland level. The goal was a tournament-leading 12th for Huntelaar.
The score remained level until just after the half, when Holland seemed intent on putting down any Swedish thoughts of an upset. Dirk Kuyt put the Dutch ahead in the 50th minute when he jumped on the rebound of a Robin van Persie shot and blasted it home.
The lead didn’t stun the Swedes as much as it seemed to enrage them. With Lustig and striker Johan Elmander in the lead, the blågult immediately launched a counterattack on Vorm. Just two minutes after Kuyt scored, Elmander cut into the penalty area to latch onto a Lustig pass when Dutch defender Joris Mathijsen used his hand to stop the play, giving Sweden a penalty kick. Sebastian Larsson took the spot kick and easily beat Vorm to tie the score at 2-all.
One minute late, Lustig got the quick toss from the ball boy and set up Toivonen.
Another Netherlands-based Swede, AZ Alkmaar striker Rasmus Elm, nearly made it 4-2 with four minutes remaining, but Vorm was equal to his audacious lob. The attempt brought gasps of appreciation from the Råsunda faithful, and they were soon back on their feet to celebrate qualification at the final whistle.
"We were nearly written off for a while and then came back to face one of the best teams in the world in a deciding match,” said Swedish captain Anders Svensson. ”We really battled for 90 minutes and it turned into the classic we'd hoped for. I mean, five goals and we win 3-2."

by Chipp Reid