Steady, unshakable Sweden is headed to the Women’s World Cup quarterfinals. The same side that upset the United States with uncanny discipline in the 2016 Olympics lulled Canada to sleep in the World Cup round of 16, and when it struck on the counterattack, immediately the match seemed out of reach.
Some one-goal leads feel shaky, potentially shattered with a single well-placed blow. Others feel unbreakable, supported with layer upon layer of defense. Sweden’s never wavered. Its 1-0 victory over Canada was a display of certainty, chemistry and patience.
Kosovare Asllani led a run out in the 55th minute and fed Stina Blackstenius for the lone score. Almost 15 minutes later, an Asllani handball gave Canada a chance to equalize, but Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl calmly knocked the chance aside.
Never again did Canada truly threaten as a determined group of Swedes punched clearance after clearance out of harm’s way.
In the first half, the effort was plodding and boring. In the second, it was a smooth master class in team defending, one developed over years, one capable of knocking over giants.
Final: Sweden 1, Canada 0
Sweden will face Germany on Friday in the quarterfinals.
69th minute: Canada can’t equalize
Canada may not have a better chance to tie the game. Desiree Scott volleyed a shot from just outside the Swedish 18-yard box that caught Kosovare Asllani’s arm as she came out to block it. The referee consulted VAR and awarded Canada a penalty, but Swedish keeper Hedvig Lindahl was equal to the task and knocked away Janine Beckie’s shot.
55th minute: Goal, Sweden
The Swedes break through, and sure enough, on the counterattack. Kosovare Asllani controlled a long ball forward and then found Stina Blackstenius running forward. She chipped a shot out in front of Canada’s charging keeper that trickled in for the match’s first goal.
Half: Sweden 0, Canada 0
A slow and plodding first half saw both Sweden and Canada struggle to create offensive opportunities as defensive prudence ruled the day. Wary of falling behind, both sides dropped significant numbers back into their own halves to repel forays into the 18-yard box.
The result was 45 minutes of soccer far too comfortable to give either team the upper hand. Canada held 61 percent of possession, but didn’t attempt a single shot. Sweden played a counterattacking style, but mustered only one shot.
It was, frankly, a disappointing half between two sides capable of generating creative chances. Canada’s Christine Sinclair entered the match two goals shy of matching the all-time scoring record, and Jessie Fleming emerged for Canada in the group stage as an offensive spark plug.
Kosovare Asllani is a talented Swedish finisher and Fridolina Rolfo has had some success taking defenders on running down the left flank.
But none of those figures had any meaningful offensive contributions, leaving the door wide open for either side to snag the lead in the second half.
The winner will face Germany in the quarterfinals.
Starved for offense early
Both sides seem evenly matched in the early going, but haven’t been able to generate many offensive opportunities. Canada has owned more possession of the ball and have earned four corners, but Sweden’s counterattacks have been sustained, and it is the only side to have recorded a shot yet.
Sweden proved a tricky opponent for the United States in the final match of the group stage and should pose an even larger challenge for Canada, which took an influx of youth (three 18-year-olds and two 20-year-olds) into the tournament.
The Swedes tried to drop back on defense and counterattack against the Americans, and came away with some pretty good scoring chances, too. Against Canada, they’ll have a more equal share of the ball and will be able to push more numbers forward. Kosovare Asllani likes making runs in from her midfield position. Fridolina Rolfo, who entered as a second-half substitute against the U.S., may earn a start as another goal-scoring threat.
But the two goals Sweden conceded to the Americans were relatively soft: off a corner that caused confusion in the back line and via a routine shot from inside the box that somehow surprised both defender and keeper. That’s extra incentive for Canada to push the pace in the attacking half, especially with world-class finishers Christine Sinclair and Jessie Fleming each already having netted a goal this tournament.
Sinclair, 36, has 182 career goals in international play, two short of matching Abby Wambach of the United States for the all-time record.
Even though knockout-stage matches tend to have a defensive bent, the best defense in this game could be a good offense.