The USA vs. France may have been deemed #LeGrandMatch on social media, but it was the Swedish national team that shocked the world in the quarterfinals when they defeated Germany 2-1 and secured their ticket to the semi-finals in Lyon.
Sweden seems to have gone under-the-radar in the analyses of this tournament. They started off in Group F, alongside the United States, Chile, and Thailand. They earned a 2-0 victory over Chile in their opener, a 5-1 victory over Thailand in their second match, and suffered a 2-0 defeat to the United States in their third match, securing second place in the group behind the United States. In the Round of 16, they handed Canada a 1-0 defeat thanks to a goal from Stina Blackstenius in the 55th minute and a late penalty save by goalkeeper Hedvig Lindhal.
Most people probably didn’t even have Sweden beating Canada, let alone Germany.
The match started out well for the Germans, who scored their goal in the 16th minute off the foot of Lina Magull. But Sweden quickly responded with a goal of their own in the 22nd minute from Sofia Jakobsson. From that point on, Sweden seemed firmly in control of the game. They played a defensive game, denying the Germans any opportunity to create many good chances. But Blackstenius and Jakobsson managed to create many moments of beauty on the counterattack. In the 48th minute, Blackstenius knocked a rebounded ball into the back of the net, the goal that would earn the Swedes a trip to Lyon.
Sweden has been consistently underestimated in this tournament. They are a country with a rich history in women’s soccer, including an appearance in the World Cup final in 2003. They won a silver medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, famously knocking out the United States in the quarterfinals. This will be their fourth semi-final appearance in their Women’s World Cup history and yet the world seems to have already written them off as serious contenders for the title.
While their attack has certainly improved, the Swedes are comfortable playing a defensive game. Their defense is led by goalkeeper Hedvig Lindhal (Chelsea) between the posts and Nilla Fischer (Wolfsburg) and Linda Sembrant (Montpellier) in the central defense. In the midfield, there is team captain Caroline Seger (Rosengård) and Kosovare Asllani (Linköpings). Asllani has been one of the critical components in the Swedish attack, either scoring goals herself (she has two so far in this tournament) or creating goal-scoring opportunities for her teammates.
The most notable players up top for Sweden are Stina Blackstenius (Linköpings) and Sofia Jakobsson (Montpellier). Blackstenius has only scored two goals this tournament, but they have both been game-winning goals in knockout games. Jakobsson scored her first goal of the tournament against Germany, but she seemed to be finding a rhythm throughout the game. The two of them will be dangerous players on the counterattack and difficult to defend.
Some people have noted that the United States already defeated Sweden in the Group Stage. But it is also worth mentioning that Sweden benched many of their starters for that match, prioritizing their players’ health and fitness above beating the United States. The situation on the field would likely look very different if these two teams meet in the final.
It is also worth noting that Sweden has not had an easy road to get to this semi-final. They have taken down Germany and Canada in their knockout matches. And while the road ahead of them isn’t an easy one, it also isn’t one this team is going to shy away from.
The Swedes have done the work on the field. They have also remained calm and focused in critical moments, getting wins even when they went down a goal to Germany or when Canada got a late penalty. They have the mentality to win. And they should be considered serious contenders to lift the World Cup trophy.