Theivam: Like them or not, Sweden must be respected

Kieran Theivam August 18, 2016 78
Sweden has won two straight matches using tactics that have made Nilla Fischer and her teammates the villains of women's soccer.

Sweden has won two straight matches using tactics that have made Nilla Fischer and her teammates the villains of women’s soccer.

Cast your mind back to the end of the group stage at this Olympic women’s football tournament.

Sweden, the pantomime villain at this year’s games, tiptoed into the knockout stages after unconvincing performances against South Africa and China, and a thumping 5-1 loss to hosts Brazil. Fast forward to a day before the gold medal match, and we find the villains, or the ‘cowardly’ Swedes (whatever you want to call them), against the unconvincing, but efficient, Germans in the final. With question marks throughout the tournament about the two finalists, there is no doubt the number of fans, pundits or players that predicted an all European final, would have been ‘zero.’

Okay, some (and it would be a small number), may have plunged for a Germany-France finale, but no one, not even Swedish fans, would have expected their team to be in Rio this Friday – unless they were perhaps watching another sport as spectators, as Australia’s Matildas have been doing this week. In truth, whether you like Sweden or not, you have to respect them, and they have answered a lot of questions asked of them. When people look at the record books in 20 years’ time, they’ll see Sweden have at least a silver medal.

Will people remember they won it by parking the bus in the quarter and semi-finals? Let’s ask another question – do you comment on how the USA won gold in Atlanta, or Norway in Sydney? With the exception of a few, it’s unlikely. You see who won gold, silver and bronze, and that’s all you look at – not how they won it.

The 5-1 defeat to Brazil in the group stage was the best thing that could have happened to Pia Sundhage’s side, because it was a reality check. And the reality is, Sweden is not in the elite group that sits at the top of women’s soccer, despite their world ranking of six.

But what they do have, is a world class coach; a coach who has won gold medals, and a coach who knows how to win – at whatever cost. Combine that with some hard-working, experienced, and let’s not sell them short, quality players, and you have a good blend for a successful side. The Swedes should actually be praised for their bravery and ability to adapt to a different approach. Does Kosovare Asllani want to be back helping her full-back, or Lotta Schelin defending set-pieces? Absolutely not! These are attack-minded, ambitious players who had to change the way they play to get the job done.

If they had played their natural game, the US would have thumped them in the quarters, much like Brazil did in the group stages, and we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Good coaches try to find a way to beat the opposition, and good teams find a way to put those ideas into practice. It might not have been pretty, but Sweden did a tremendous job despite horrible form coming into this tournament.

Nilla Fischer, a colossus at the back, told The Equalizer before the tournament that the team did not come into the year with huge confidence after their disastrous World Cup. But those players, led by the experience of Fischer, Schelin and Caroline Seger, played out of their skin to earn their spot on the final showdown. Do they care how they got there? Absolutely not!

And what about the confidence and calmness of Lisa Dahlkvist. Scoring the decisive spot-kick, under enormous pressure, in both matches – now that takes guts.

What they face now is a different test. An equally world class coach, who will have had sleepless nights these last few days as she plans to do find a way to breakdown Sweden’s resistance.

Can the Swedes do it again? Well, you now have to believe they can, because few gave them any hope in the last two matches – and they came through both of them.

But they’ll have to deal with the fact they’ve played 60 more minutes than their opponents, and have had the emotion of two penalty shoot-outs. Germany don’t have the pace of Brazil or USA, but they do have a clever midfield, who may not need to get as close to the Swede’s 18-yard box, especially with the shooting range of Melanie Behringer and Sara Däbritz.

  • smallchief

    Sweden achieved the impossible.

    No, I’m not talking about making the Olympic finals. I mean they made Americans root for Brazil to beat them. We suddenly expressed a fondness for the “beautiful game” as played by Brazil.

    • Steglitz49

      Fascinating — and frightening.

  • AlexH

    I think the ultimate respect is when the whiners of the world call for rule changes to prevent what was just done from happening again.

    • Guest

      Would not be the worst thing. A little bizarre to be able to win OG gold while not scoring a goal in the knockout rounds

      • Ethan

        Well, that would have been a possibility if Brazil had gone through. Sweden has scored in the knockout rounds. Personally, I’m fine with no rule changes.

        • Steglitz49

          Brazil beat Sweden 5-1 in their group game!

      • Paul Klee

        Well they did score a goal, just ask Broon & JJ

        • Guest

          I know. I am saying in general, it would be bizarre if this became the new normal, and teams could in theory win without scoring a goal in the knockouts

          • Steglitz49

            You were speaking in particular. Don’t sharpen the cards because you forgot the goals Sweden scored against the US.

      • Steglitz49

        Sweden scored 1-0 against the US. The US goal came from off a foul. Sweden scored 2-1, which the incompetent refereeing erroneously disallowed.

        Goals were scored by Sweden in the QF of the knockout round. Live with it.

    • Steglitz49

      Hear hear!

    • guest

      to be fair, people have been complaining about fifa rule changes for years. fifa is fifteen years behind the times on video replay alone. just look at at all the bad call game winning goals in major tournaments in the last couple of years. no other sport is comparable. but fifa officials are more concerned with stealing money than the game itself.

  • Observed

    Parking the bus should be the same as delay of play. Yellow cards all around. I’m just a fan, but fans pay good money to see futbol, not delaying tactics and PKs. If Pia represents the future of woso, then they’ll have to play without me watching.

  • Tania

    If not rules changes right away, at least a look at how penalties are called. They missed a bunch on Sweden.

  • David K Anderson

    I have less of a problem with bunkering (a classic tactic for a team that feels it’s overmatched) than with all the cynical fouling because they know refs at big, big tournaments are slow to put players in the book, especially in the first half. The former is a legit gameplan; the latter is gaming the system.

    • Paul Klee

      Cynical tactic. This is why I would like leagues and tournaments organizers to encourage giving cautions for fouls where warranted. But leagues and tournament organizers have to use post game video review to look for just cases of simulation. And when they find these punish the players and the teams harshly.

  • Paul Klee

    Had the officiating not been subpar and had the US manager been able to grasp rudimentary substitution patterns the match probably would have went to spot kicks at 3-3.

    • Steglitz49

      No. Sweden would have won 1-0 in regulation. Even if you overlook Pinoe’s foul that led to Alex’s equalizer, Lotta’s goal was good. Then there is the PK not awarded against JJ’s foul on Sembrandt.

      • Paul Klee

        The error your making in your analysis is if the referee had not been subpar, in other words, had made the first match changing call correctly the rest of the match would have played out entirely differently. If the JJ shirt tug had been called, penalized and cautioned the match would have played out entirely different from that point on. If the spot kick had been converted at that point early in the match the US would likely have changed up their play and the Swedes would not have been able to build confidence in their defensive tactics. Furthermore if Sweden had missed the spot kick there’s a good chance their confidence would have Evaporated and the US would have rolled over them.

        So look at that way, Sweden is fortunate that the ref was so bad.

  • smallchief

    A team would be crazy not to bunker if they don’t have the talent or speed to attack. Every team wants to win — and I don’t blame anybody for using the legal tactics that give them the best chance. .

    However, bunkering is not good for the sport as a whole. Scoring is down substantially and the 0-0 game has become too common.

    Proof: There have been 20 men’s World Cup finals. In the finals of the earliest 10, the average number of goals scored was 4.8. In the 10 most recent finals, the average number of goals scored was 2.3.

    • Gary Diver

      “Every team wants to win.”

      I think it is more accurate to say no team wants to lose. A draw is much better than a loss. I was surprised to see Mark Parson use 5 fenders against Seattle in their last game a few weeks ago. He was aiming to avoid a loss.

      If you are at least a 2 goal underdog and have good defenders, rope-a-dope soccer should be a strategy of first resort for all women teams. Women players do not have the strength and/or accuracy to score distant direct goals. And if your players lack the talent to attack, it makes sense to play negative soccer where you exert your energies to negate the superior talents of your opponents. This will reduce the goal difference and if you have a decent counter-attack, you might pull off a 1-0 surprise victory.

      • Steglitz49

        With a competent ref crew Sweden would have won without need of a pso.

        You lay with the players you have. You can’t field players you don’t have. The US did not have the players to unlock the Swedish defense. Brazil did not have the patience to stay focus. After 20 min their gameplan evaporated.

        What needs to be fixed is the refereeing in WoSo.

    • Steglitz49

      Though your point is well taken, the change score rate has partly to do with the new types of balls introduced from 1974 and on. Maybe an early version was in use in 1970 already.

      Briefly the old style balls absorbed water from the grass and weighed considerably more and were stiffer than at the start. Thus shots became harder to save and to tip over the bar. The leather of the new balls has been treated so modern balls absorb almost no if any water.

      The hiehgt of goalies may be playing a part. The great Gordon Banks stood 6’1″ while today Neuer is 6’4″ and Buffon is 6’3″. It would be interesting to know the average height of goalies over the years. Tilkowski who played against Banks in the WC-66 final stood 5’11”, I seem to remember.

  • BigBadBossMan

    It’s fantastic for the 5 people in Sweden who care, it’s absolutely horrible for WoSo overall that this has happened. Hopefully Germany wins gold.

    • Steglitz49

      As I answered you before, 1.2m (13%) Swedes watched the match and another 1m stayed on for the post match interviews. The match was not on one of the public channels but on a pay channel.

      1.2m is 13% of Sweden. 13% of the US is 40m. The WC-15 final was only watched by 25m.

      I have not seen viewing figures for the Brazil game. The record for all TV broadcasts in Sweden is the WC-03 ladies final when almost 50% of the nation watched. That wold be like 150m Americans watching.

      Instead of being snarky, suggest some ways of upping US viewership.

      • FlyingSquirrel42

        Just out of curiosity, what time was it in Sweden when the game started? Would people with day jobs have been home?

        • Steglitz49

          Kick-off for USA v Sweden was at 6 pm Swedish time. Sweden is 6 h ahead of ET, 5 from Rio.

          The WC-03 final was played in CA I think, which is 9 h different from Sweden.

  • mockmook

    If JE had done her job properly, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

    • Gary Diver

      Yes, and she made over a dozen terrible decisions. In fact, it difficult to find a single good decision she made in the whole tournament. Her decision to insert Rapinoe in the QF match and her choice of PK shooters demonstrated incompetence beyond belief.

      • Steglitz49

        She may have been under orders to play Pinoe.

        Pinoe started the move that led to Alex’s 1-1 goal. The fact that it was by a foul on Asllani that should have been a Swedish freekick in midfield Americans need not discuss in public.

        • Gary Diver

          Any sane reason why Jill Ellis chose Morgan (who does not like PKs) to shoot first and Press (who realized Ellis had no confidence in her when she moved Lloyd ahead of her in the order) to shoot the critical fifth shot? Press must have had a meltdown. Hers was the worst PK out of 30+ in the 3 shootouts – it was beyond awful.

          I assume Press is now permanently in Ellis’ doghouse because of the stressful situation Ellis ridiculously put her in.

          • Steglitz49

            That the US chose for Christen to take the 5th penalty remains an incomprehensible choice for a free person to make.

            Of all the decisions of the US under JE, that is the most bizarre. Alex going first is not as odd.

          • Gary Diver

            Having Press take the fifth PK has to be one of the worst decisions in WoSo history. One wonders if Ellis really wanted to win the match. And Press is now permanently damaged goods.

          • ARED

            I agree Ellis was very wrong, but Press is certainly not damaged goods. A more realistic concern would be that she -along with Heath, Morgan, Rapinoe, Sauerbrunn -will start to push the age factor by the next World Cup, much more than any worries she won’t bounce back and still be a strong player (probably sooner rather than later, although NWSL is always a crapshoot).

          • Steglitz49

            Seeing that Christen has long had a reputation of not being a strong player when it counts, I tend to agree with Gary Diver that she has reinforced perception. A picture is worth a thousand words.

          • ARED

            Why, because of NCAA or one UCL Final?

            I just don’t see it. Whenever I’ve seen Press given a big role for any team I’ve seen her perform well. Just because her team doesn’t always win in the end, or she doesn’t win the Golden Boot, doesn’t mean she “isn’t a strong player”. In fact, I find that a pretty ridiculous comment…(with respect, of course).

            And what picture? Don’t tell me it’s the dogs again… ; p

          • Steglitz49

            The ladies Champions League final is a reasonable recent example. Oddly enough, Christen won with Göteborg, even scoring for them, the team she left in the lurch at one second to midnight.

            I used picture in extended meaning.

          • ARED

            As I said, losing in a final hardly means a player is bad. Is Marta or Seger or Klingenberg also bad, or “not a strong player when it counts”?

            Or maybe on the day Goeßling, Keßler, and Müller were better.
            Is Henry a bad player, or in his UCL final was it just a difficult opponent who had Ronaldinho at his peak, along with a few others like Deco and Iniesta….? Is Messi a waste, no good under pressure because Argentina (barely) lost the final to Germany?

            Let’s be reasonable here….

          • Gary Diver

            Here is the problem. After the WC15 experience, Press admitted her head was not in a good place and needed a recalibration. The PK debacle showed the world that Ellis has no confidence in Press. That was followed by the worst PK of the 30+ PK shots. That has to hurt and will take a long time to get out of Press’ head. And who knows if Ellis doesn’t blame Press for the loss.

          • ARED

            I agree, there is not a good relationship (in terms of effectiveness, not personal problems) between Ellis and Press. But that is one manager.

            Football is full of players who struggle under a certain manager who prefers a system they don’t fit, or who just doesn’t value them for some reason. It doesn’t mean the player is bad. Juan Mata, Antoine Griezmann, Paul Pogba are all recent examples. All were unwanted/unused, but clearly are great players -and still able to grow/change/adapt. Same is true for Press. But if Ellis stays, it may be difficult on the national team, which is difficult.

          • Gary Diver

            If the average age of the WC19 roster is greater than the WC15 roster, I will be off USWNT.

          • ARED

            Haha, well never say never with the USWNT….

            Lloyd will of course be the big outlier, weighing heavily on that statistic as well as the team’s play…

          • ARED

            I think Lloyd going #3 instead of #1 or #5 was the huge mistake, and then choosing Morgan and Press for those roles were just additional follies….lol.

            I’d imagine Lloyd, Rapinoe, Heath, Morgan, Press, Horan, Brian would be the top choices from the roster. Ellis chose not to have Rapinoe or Heath take one which seems odd, leaving only Lloyd for the big kicks -but still didn’t even use her, the “veteran who steps up” on the pressure kicks, throwing Morgan and Press into the fire so to speak. They could have rose to the occasion, but the occasion was much harsher than it needed to be.

          • guest

            remember rapinoe wasn’t in the game at the end of overtime. she was only 20 minutes fit. they blew two subs on her. so she wasn’t an option. surprised heath wasn’t chosen though.

          • ARED

            Yes -my point is that Ellis chose to use (**waste**) her substitutions how she did, thus it was a choice not to have Rapinoe available.

            Press/Dunn/Horan certainly could have come on and lasted through 120 minutes, so Ellis could have chosen to save Rapinoe until she at least could finish the match. I assume she saw Rapinoe as the best chance to tie the match though. Again, a decision she made. Not sure it’s one I would agree with -although that is at least reasonable, unlike not using Lloyd 1 or 5, or Heath at all…

          • guest

            ok i see your point now. ellis’s sub use was absolutely terrible. to not have lloyd shooting #1 or #5 is just incomprehensible. ellis should be fired for her PK selection alone.

          • Steglitz49

            Christen’s penalty joined Lloyd’s of 5 years ago. Lloyd’s is still orbiting Saturn or may even have reached Uranius by now. Christen’s might not get out of a lower terrestrial orbit, though.

          • ARED

            Lloyd definitely powered hers into a higher exact trajectory i’d say…. ; )

          • ARED

            I agree all on fronts….

          • Steglitz49

            It is easy to be wise after the event. In the WC-11 final pso, it ended 3-1 to Japan. At least here the 5th penalty was needed which was bad luck for Christen.

          • ARED

            Ha -that is true! But I’ve always said this -go back and check my comments Steglitz! ; p

            Lloyd’s only elite talents for me is penalties and finishing from inside 6 yards (seriously). I’ve said this often, and that Holiday, Rapinoe, and Heath are all great on set pieces. Holiday is gone leaving more room/need for others like Horan and Brian.

          • FlyingSquirrel42

            Lloyd should have been 5th, and Heath certainly should have been in the lineup somewhere. Press, if they were going to use her, probably should have gone 2nd or 3rd.

            Unless this is one of those situations where the players decided on their own or volunteers were requested, but IMO the coach should not leave that responsibility to anybody else. You ought to have at least two or three possible PK lineups in mind before the game even starts, and none of them should have involved Heath being left out or Press going 5th.

          • Gary Diver

            It is my understanding that going into any game the coach has a list of PK shooters. The rational place for Lloyd was fifth, but when Morgan missed, Ellis felt she needed to move Lloyd in front of Press.

          • ARED

            I agree 100%. Any manager who isn’t thinking through their 5 penalty takers before a game/tournament even starts -or as they make substitutions in a close match -is not doing their job well in my opinion.

        • Gary Diver

          If Ellis was “under orders” to play an unfit Rapinoe, something is broke.

          • Steglitz49

            It probably is. Whether anyone will fix it is another question.

        • ARED

          Was there a clear angle on the international feed of that challenge/foul? Or anywhere online? (I might have missed it).

      • ARED

        I will say I was impressed by Elliis starting Pugh and Long.

        Not because these were difficult decisions, but because she usually manages to ignore/overlook new or outside players for her favorites (those with “experience”), so I expected her to revert to Dunn and Horan. Of course Pugh got injured, then Blackstenius scored, and then Ellis started drawing players and positions out from a hat it seemed….

        • Steglitz49

          Blackstenius scored. As she did for Sweden U19 in Euro-15. Wonder if a US college will look to recruit her?

          • ARED

            I admit I don’t know her, she’s only 19 now? And not professional?

            She definitely seems to have good speed and physical presence, and in the short window I’ve seen she’s done well on the ball -with one huge goal!

          • Steglitz49

            The Spanish head coach compared her to a combination of the best of CR7 and Messi.

          • ARED

            Really? Vilda?

          • Steglitz49

            Yes. Jorge Vilda.

          • ARED

            Hmm. I missed that…lol.

          • Tom F

            if she’s being payed a pro salary, then she cannot play college ball. Under NCAA rules, she;s allowed to play for a previous pro club as long as she’s not getting paid other than room & board and travel expenses

          • Steglitz49

            I honestly don’t know but I guess she earns something. Stina rather burst on the scene in that U19 Euros last year but has played for Linköping for 3 seasons.

        • Tom F

          I’m not that impressed with Pugh, she comes across as more of a one dimensional player. Sure, excellent in 1v1 / or slashing through defenses, but lacking an outside shot(I know, sounds more like basketball).
          She got over hyped at the u20 WC in 2014(and the US team did fizzle too by the quarter finals).
          Fact is that in this tourney. the US wasn’t looking too good, not just with Sweden, but the tie with Colombia and even in the French game where they were lucky to win

          • ARED

            I don’t think we should put too much pressure and hype on any young player, but I believe Pugh has come through well so far with the senior team. The 2014 U-20 team had many players overhyped and the team was really just not very good as a unit. But I don’t see any phase of the game where Pugh has not been at or above the USWNT level since she arrived. This includes speed and 1v1 of course, also vision, passing, timing, combination play, speed of play, speed of thought, movement, etc. Even her physical play and tackling has been pretty strong. Sure she hasn’t refined her shot from outside 18 yards, but she doesn’t waste shots trying -she finds teammates and space and creates chances from *inside* the area better than most aside from Heath, Morgan, and occasionally Press/Rapinoe. If you mean she may not score a ton (right now) as one dimensional I agree a bit, but I would not say that due to all the qualities I just mentioned.

            I’m not sure if you’ve seen her throughout or not, but I believe she was limited with the injury at this tournament (to go with the usual limits the player face from Ellis’ tactics). Still I thought she was among the players who did about as well as possible given their roles.

  • Steglitz49

    I was amused by the picture used to illustrate the article because Sweden played in their reverse strip of blue both against the US and Brazil. The blue strip is becoming known as the “lucky” strip, like the English call their red strip, which they wore in the WC-66 final.

  • ARED

    This is of course correct -we should respect fair play and team unity, both of which Sweden has. But there is no reason someone must like the fact that a team who is in the final who hasn’t scored since the group stage.

    As for remembering how a team wins, or the style….

    Well, Brazil cares, and so does most of Europe. Brazil in 2002 or Spain in 2010 were very impressive wins, adding both the style and the result -which seems to be harder and harder as the years go by.

    • Steglitz49

      If the US had won there would not have been all this whinge and whine. Instead celebration and jubilation.

      • ARED

        Well I have always disliked any match like these, because I don’t like playing/managing/watching them, and I don’t think it’s great for the game in general. But I will never say it is wrong for a team to do it, just not what I want to see.

        If the “big” team wins it is often forgotten, but not always. The 2010 WC Final could have been one of the greatest games ever, with attacking talent and flair all over the pitch. Instead, we suffered for 116 minutes, and many remember it as not a great match for a neutral, despite the quality on display.

    • Nicole C.

      They scored against the US in the quarterfinal. They haven’t “won” since the group stage.

      • ARED

        Thank you, I meant to go back and change that. I was debating between:

        “has barely created a chance since the group stage”, and,
        “has scored 3 goals in 5 matches”.

        Probably the latter, since some might say they’ve created a few chances….

  • football-women.com

    I am afraid the story regarding Sweden goes a little bit different:
    http://www.football-women.com/2016/08/19/olympics-rio-2016-finals-preview/

    • Steglitz49

      Sweden has not defeated Germany in an awfully long time. The Germans have found their grove. They are favourites at 60:40 if not 2:1.

      • football-women.com

        What they often find from my point of view is relatively better than most other teams a way to score somehow.
        I wouldnt however call their game against Canada very groovy.

        • Steglitz49

          2-0. In regulation. It must count for something.