Nothing, it appears, can shake Sweden. Now it will play for a spot in the World Cup final.
Its clinical 2-1 unmasking of favorite Germany on Saturday had every Swedish element. The defending was top-notch. The finishes were effective but not flashy. The chemistry and creativity were anything but spontaneous.
The vintage performance earned a measure of revenge for the world’s ninth-ranked side, which lost to Germany in the 2016 Olympic final in Rio de Janeiro. It snapped a winless streak of 11 major tournament matches (10 losses, one draw) against Germany since 1995.
The defeat of the second-ranked Germans, meanwhile, will surely set the winner of Tuesday’s semifinal between No. 1 United States and No. 3 England as the favorite to take home the World Cup.
Germany started explosively, bombarding the Swedish 18-yard box with chances. Lina Magull pounded in her own half-volley for a 16th-minute goal.
But Sweden, the 2003 World Cup runner-up and now a four-time semifinalist, was unshaken. Sofia Jakobsson scored in the 22nd minute off a long through ball. From there, the Swedes continued to defend and sweep clearances until they found the feet of Jakobsson and Stina Blackstenius, who sat up high.
Germany seemed befuddled for most of the remainder, which included two mandatory hydration breaks in sweltering conditions.
Blackstenius scored on a rebound just after halftime in the 48th. Germany never came to its senses. And nothing rattled those pesky Swedes.
86th minute: Sweden substitution
Nathalie Bjorn enters for Elin Rubensson.
76th minute: Danger zone for Germany
Things are growing more dire for Germany. Its offense is lacking the creativity it showed in the first half, and its defense is still having problems managing runners and long-distance through balls. At some point soon, Germany is going to need to devote more numbers forward and work a little harder for an equalizing goal.
The Germans are lucky things didn’t just get a whole lot worse. Sofia Jakobsson made a piercing run and sent a defender tumbling with a slick move in the box before goalkeeper Almuth Schult punched her shot aside.
69th minute: Germany substitution
Lena Obrerdorf enters for Lea Schuller.
66th minute: Sweden substitution
Amanda Ilestedt enters for Nilla Fischer.
56th minute: Yellow card
Sweden’s Fridolina Rolfo is booked for a foul on Lina Magull.
48th minute: Goal, Sweden
The second-ranked Germans are being betrayed by their back line and now are in serious danger of being upset. Stina Blackstenius put home a rebound of a header by Fridolina Rolfo, who was free in the center of a box for a cross from Sofia Jakobsson.
Substitution: Marozsan enters for Germany
Dzsenifer Marozsan, Germany’s star midfielder and one of the top players in the world, is back in action after missing three games with a broken toe suffered in the tournament-opening win over China. She replaces Linda Dallmann.
Germany must do some unifying at the half.
There is attacking Germany: precise, ambitious, creative, dominant. And there is defensive Germany: timid, sloppy, confused. At some point in the second half against Sweden, one will have to answer for the other to break this 1-1 draw.
The Germans looked to be flying high with Lina Magull’s cracker of a goal in the 16th minute, then overwhelming possession and a salvo of crosses and nifty passes in tight space that fed a squad of nifty finishers.
But with Sweden on the ball, the defense was exposed. And it wasn’t crisp, sharp passes and runs that undid mighty Germany. No, it was dull, longitudinal balls that German defenders simply watched land beyond their grasp on to the feet of Sofia Jakobsson and Stina Blackstenius.
Jakobsson finished one attack with a score in the 22nd minute. Blackstenius could have had another in the 37th.
Germany will have reconcile that glaring weakness, because Sweden is not afraid to go chest-to-chest with German attackers. It’s quite prepared to continue repelling attacks and biding its time.
43rd minute: German substitution
Leonie Maier enters for Carolin Simon, who has been struggling with a knee injury.
37th minute: Another Swedish chance
These through balls from Sweden are giving Germany’s four defenders a whole bunch of trouble. This time it was Stine Blackstenius that was in behind the defense one-on-one with Almuth Schult, and Schult was lucky to get a hand on Blackstenius’s shot and tip it over the cross bar.
Said Swedish Coach Peter Gerhardsson before the match (via FIFA match reporter Alexandra Jonson): “We will probably have to accept that the ball possession is nothing we should try to win but instead try to hurt them with deep balls and a lot of runs between their players to create chances, and then we need to be just as effective as we were against Canada.”
22nd minute: Goal, Sweden
We’re tied in short order, and it’s in perfect Swedish fashion. Sitting back on defense, they were able to control the ball in the midfield and played long a counterattacking pass over top of the German back four. Sofia Jakobsson ran on to it and was one-on-one with German keeper Almuth Schult. She deflected Jakobsson’s shot but didn’t get enough.
16th minute: Goal, Germany
Germany takes an early lead on one of the World Cup’s finest goals. A Swedish turnover in the midfield sent Sara Dabritz running with the ball downfield. She threaded a pass to Lina Magull inside the 18-yard box in behind the defense. The pass was slightly behind Magull, on her back foot, but she finished beautifully by popping in the ball into the air and smacking in a half-volley.
6th minute: Germany gets the first chance
And it doesn’t bother Sweden much. After a Swedish foul yards outside the 18-yard box, Germany’s Lina Magull bent a shot around the wall of defenders, but keeper Hedvig Lindahl cradled the shot without any problems.
And we’re off!
Here are the starting lineups:
Setting the stage
Matches like these are perhaps the reason that World Cup knockout-stage showdowns have earned the reputation for being low on scoring but high on drama.
Germany has yet to concede a goal through four matches, the only team that can make that claim. Sweden has advanced by committing its entire squad to repelling attacks.
And still, both these sides are among the world’s most capable offensive powers, loaded with quality finishers and experienced enough for clever combination plays. That attacking prowess won’t be the main display Saturday afternoon.
Instead, look for a familiar pattern: Germany on the ball, Sweden on the counterattack. It’s redundant — both sides have played the same style almost the entire tournament — but it’s also mutually beneficial, and the style the two played during the 2016 Olympic final in Rio de Janeiro. Germany took the gold medal with a 2-1 result. In fact, Sweden hasn’t beaten Germany at a major tournament since 1995.
Germany, the world’s No. 2 team and winner of Group B, rarely faces an opponent that can compete to hold the ball, and the Swedes are not such an opponent. Midfielder Sara Dabritz has played all of all four matches and has three goals to show for it. Forward and captain Alexandra Popp has scored twice, both headers, and isn’t shy about blasting away at the target. Defender Giulia Gwinn has been the principal distributor with a pair of assists. Germany has done better to operate from the flanks than straight up the middle.
Sweden will lead with its defense. Its back four of Linda Sembrant, Hanna Glas, Nilla Fischer and Magdalena Eriksson has been one of the tournament’s best units. Keeper Hedvig Lindahl surely has. Her save on a Canadian penalty led the Swedes to this match. On breakouts — Lindahl, among other things, is a maestro at distributing from the 18-yard box — midfielder Kosovare Asllani has combined well with forwards Stina Blackstenius and Fridolina Rolfo. Elin Rubensson on the other wing also has a goal and an assist.
The winner will face either Italy or the Netherlands in the semifinals.
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