Swedish fans know they were handed a lifeline last year when England won bronze at the World Cup in Canada because it opened up a second opportunity for Pia Sundhage’s team to qualify. Unlike confederations such as CONCACAF and Asia, who have qualifying tournaments for the Olympics, UEFA allocate their spots to the best three performing nations at the previous year’s World Cup. England, Germany and France earned those spots, but with Team Great Britain not sending a side to Rio, it meant the four next best performing teams – the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland and the Swedes – would play a round-robin tournament, with the team finishing top, claiming England/Team GB’s place.
Sweden, in truth, were poor at the World Cup and were one of the biggest underachievers, failing to win a single match in Canada and being comfortably dumped out at the last sixteen stage by Germany.
The retirements of players such as Therese Sjogran and Sara Thunebro forced changes for the mini-tournament in the Netherlands, which saw Sweden come out on top with two 1-0 wins over Switzerland and Norway, and a 1-1 draw with the hosts.
Booking their place in Rio means Sweden have now qualified for every Olympic tournament, alongside the United States and Brazil, and will feel they have a point to prove after the disappointment in Canada.
Strengths and Weaknesses
Coach Sundhage has a huge task on her hands as she aims for three Olympic gold medals in a row, having won with the United States in 2008 and 2012. If Sweden is to be successful, the team’s experienced spine will play a pivotal role in trying to win a medal.
Goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl has benefited tremendously from the professional environment surrounding her at Chelsea Ladies, developing into one of the best stoppers in Europe. In front of her, Nilla Fischer has already played in a major final this year. She and her club team Wolfsburg finished runner-up in the UEFA Women’s Champions League Final, while midfield rock Caroline Seger will be looking to impress after a recent high-profile move to Champions League winners, Lyon.
But the focal point of the women in yellow will once again be the player at the top of the spine, forward Lotta Schelin. The now FC Rosengard striker failed to score in Canada last year, and much of the scoring burden in Brazil will land on her shoulders. If she’s not scoring, goals may be hard to come by for the Swedes.
Sundhage said at squad announcement that it was difficult to select just 18, with the likes of defender Lina Nillson and Liverpool forward Emma Lundh, both appearing on the World Cup roster, missing out. However, the charismatic coach has clearly tried to lower the average age of her squad by bringing in some exciting youngsters.
Linkoping forward pair Fridolina Rolfö and Stina Blackstenius, 22 and 20 respectively, are ones to watch and, if given the opportunity, could be the wild cards Sweden look to in their times of need. Both have been instrumental in helping their club keep pace with the star-studded FC Rosengard in the Swedish Damallsvenskan, and along with the other three players picked from Linkoping, will look to bring their club form to the national team.
If there is one weakness in the Sweden team, it has been a lack of speed on the break. The team looked off the pace at the World Cup last year, but with a few more youngsters this time round, that could be a problem that has been addressed.
Sweden is here because Team GB is not, there’s no getting away from that, so they can look at this as a bonus tournament as they look to better their two quarter-final appearances in 2008 and 2012. With South Africa, China and Brazil in their group, the Swedes will fancy their chances of getting out of it, possibly as runners-up to the hosts.
Anything beyond that, really, is a positive achievement. The spine mentioned earlier is not as young as it once was, while the young players will need time to adapt. Conditions in Brazil will not necessarily suit the European sides either, but Sweden have been in good form in 2016, and they’ll want to prove to people that they are still one of the major nations in the women’s game.
Olympics – Sweden’s best performance at the Olympic Games came in Beijing (2008) and London (2012) as they reached the Quarter-Finals. Interestingly, South Africa was also in their group in London. Sweden beat them, 4-1
Group Prospects – With two third place spots up for grabs, the Swedes should reach the last eight at least.
Key Player – Lotta Schelin
Averages a goal every other game. She makes the team tick and if she’s quiet, the team tends to be as well.
Player to Watch – Fridolina Rolfö
Sweden has a lot of attacking talent, but if Rolfö is called upon, she’s an exciting player to watch.
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