Although Kevin Gallacher raised Scotland's hopes with a late reply, the damage proved irreparable. While it is too early to say the same for the Scots' prospects of making it to France next summer, what is clear is that February's goalless draw with Estonia is now looking very costly.
The shock of finally seeing their net ripple was compounded by the extraordinary fact that Jim Leighton had last been beaten at international level seven years ago in June. Kennet Andersson, in whom both Rangers and Celtic have expressed interest, received the accolades, though in truth it was Martin Dahlin who did most to undermine the aura of invincibility surrounding Craig Brown's defence.
Dahlin, reminiscent of Mark Hughes in his aerial ability and capacity to create havoc when receiving the ball with his back to goal, set up both Sweden's goals. His close contemporary, Tomas Brolin, may have mislaid his talent somewhere between Leeds and Italy, yet the Bundesliga-based Dahlin - once a target for Everton - appears to have added awesome aggression to his attacking capabilities.
There was, perhaps, an inevitability about the outcome. Sweden felt seriously aggrieved to have lost 1-0 in Glasgow last November, when Leighton performed miracles of loaves-and-fishes proportions. Gothenburg was gripped by a carnival atmosphere, with the ground bathed in balmy sunshine on the day officially designated as the start of summer here, and the local population did not seem to have countenanced failure.
Even the firm challenge by Gary McAllister which forced the early retirement of Stefan Schwarz could not slow the Swedes' momentum. With only 70 seconds gone, a pass by the Rangers-bound Jonas Thern set up Gary Sundgren for a defence-dissecting long ball. Andreas Andersson could not angle his shot across Leighton.
The Scotland goalkeeper, winning his 78th cap, was far busier than Thomas Ravelli, winning his 138th. Leighton did well to tip over Schwarz's free- kick moments before the former Arsenal midfielder was hurt, while Ravelli was grateful that McAllister trundled the Scots' best chance of the first half straight to him.
Otherwise, it was backs-to-the-wall stuff by Scotland. Dahlin repeatedly worked a good position only to find a Scottish leg snaking out to thwart him at the last. Even when he met Par Zetterberg's corner with a shot that eluded Leighton, Paul Lambert cleared off the line.
Then, two minutes before the interval, Sweden scored, thereby joining England as the only sides to have breached the Scottish defence in tournament football since late '94. If there was an element of doubt about the legality of Dahlin's aerial challenge on Colin Hendry, there was no questioning the quality of Kennet Andersson's 20-yard volley as the ball dropped.
Zetterberg almost added to the lead shortly before the hour, curling a free-kick beyond Leighton but against the angle of post and bar. There was no such reprieve five minutes later as Dahlin took a scalpel to the Scotland rearguard.
The pass he speared to Kennet Andersson still left the Bologna striker with much to do. But turning sharply inside to wrong-foot Colin Calderwood, he fired low from 12 yards and a deflection off the defender carried the ball out of Leighton's reach into the corner of the net.
Seven minutes from time, Gallacher headed his third goal in successive internationals from McAllister's corner. The Blackburn player felt he might then have had a penalty when he was nudged by Patrik Andersson, though Brown admitted a draw would have flattered his team.
The Scotland manager now rates Sweden as favourites to win the section, with Scotland more likely to be involved in a play-off, but he took hope from the knowledge that Tommy Svensson's side still have to play second- placed Austria in Vienna.
SWEDEN (4-3-3): Ravelli (IFK Gothenburg); Sundgren (AIK Stockholm), P Andersson (Monchengladbach), Bjorklund (Rangers), Kamark (Leicester); Thern (Roma), Zetterberg (Anderlecht), Schwarz (Fiorentina); A Andersson (Gothenburg), K Andersson (Bologna), Dahlin (Monchengladbach). Substitute: Mild (Real Sociedad) for Schwarz, 12.
SCOTLAND (3-5-2): Leighton (Hibernian); Calderwood (Tottenham), Hendry (Blackburn), Boyd (Celtic); Burley (Chelsea), G McAllister (Coventry), Lambert (Dortmund), Collins (Monaco), T McKinlay (Celtic); Gallacher (Blackburn), Jackson (Hibernian). Substitutes: Durie (Rangers) for Jackson, 66; Gemmill (Nottm Forest) for McKinlay, 68.
Referee: P Collina (Italy).Reuse content