This article is part of the Guardian’s 2019 Women’s World Cup Experts’ Network, a cooperation between some of the best media organizations from the 24 countries who have qualified for France. The Equalizer, as part of the network, will profile each of the 24 countries.
Sweden were comfortable winners in their qualifying group ahead of Denmark but, it must be pointed out, helped massively by winning one of their games against their Scandinavian rivals on walkover. The Danish women’s team could not find an agreement with their football federation for compensation for representing the country and thus Sweden were awarded a 3-0 win in October 2017.
As it happened, Denmark could still have beaten Sweden to the top spot in the group if they had won the last game of the group, between the two teams, in Viborg but Peter Gerhardsson’s side triumphed 1-0 to finish the section five points ahead of the Danes.
Gerhardsson had then hoped to just fine-tune his gameplan before the finals but since then Sweden have struggled in attack and the coach has not been entirely convinced who should lead the line. Stina Blackstenius, who scored three times in qualifying , has returned to Linköping in the Swedish top-flight to get herself back to her best, after spending two seasons at Montpellier in France. She scored twice in the opening four games to indicate that she may very well be on the right track.
There are also doubts concerning Hedvig Lindahl, the experienced goalkeeper who has been an international since the early 2000s. The 36-year-old is leaving Chelsea at the end of the season, having spent a large part of the season on the bench, and Sweden hope that her experience will make up for any lack of match fitness. Lindahl, together with Chelsea teammate Magdalena Ericsson, who has been one of Sweden’s best performers over the past year, holds the key to the team’s success.
Gerhardsson has relied on a 4-2-3-1 formation, with an emphasis on playing the ball out from the back, often looking to find one of the playmakers between the opposition’s midfield and defense. From there the plan is the use the pace of the wide players to either go past their direct opponent or find a teammate in the penalty area.
From there, Sweden like to enjoy the pace of their wide-players, either letting them challenge the defenders or quickly trying to set up the players inside the box. That is how they scored against Germany in a friendly in April in front of a record crowd of 25,882, Sofia Jakobsson going past her mark to earn a penalty, from which Caroline Seger scored.
However, Germany were by far the better team – which Gerhardsson excepted afterwards – and the visitors exploited the two main weaknesses of the Swedish defense: set pieces and the space behind the high line. They will need to fix that to be able to go far in France.
The 59-year-old Peter Gerhardsson replaced Pia Sundhage after the latter had failed to get past the quarterfinal stage at Euro 2017. Gerhardsson, who has more than 150 top-flight matches as a player, retired in the early 1990s before going into coaching. In the past decade, he has emerged as one of the most interesting figures on the Swedish coaching scene, winning the Swedish Cup and qualifying for the Europa League with Gothenburg side BK Häcken (the men’s side). Gerhardsson was expected to try to emulate his attack and possession-orientated football with the national side but as they have struggled defensively, he has had to shift his focus somewhat.
Kosovare Asllani. The 29-year-old is the key to the Swedish attack. She is an all-round player, very clever and technically outstanding. She is often deployed in a roaming role behind the strikers to devastating effect. She is back in Sweden with Linköping now after spells with PSG and Manchester City and showed in this year’s Algarve Cup what she can do with two assists and a wonder goal against Switzerland. These are the kind of performances Sweden desperately need to pose a threat to the other top teams in the World Cup, notably in the group stage game against the United States.
Did you know?
Nathalie Björn, the 22-year-old defender, who scored against Austria in a friendly in April, is quite a fan of tattoos. She got herself some ink after beating Spain in the final of the Under-19 Euros in 2015, and she also has a tattoo of a weapon.
Raheem Sterling recently explained why he has a gun tattooed on his leg – the Manchester City forward said that it was because his had a deeper meaning as his father had been gunned down when he was two years old – while Björn’s reason is possibly more straightforward. Her middle name is Gun.
Brief history of women’s football in Sweden
Sweden have been one of the flag bearers for women’s football and it took off properly as early as the 1960s. Sweden have competed in 23 major tournaments already – seven World Cups, 10 Euros and six Olympics – finishing on the podium an incredible nine times. But despite reaching the final of the 2016 Olympics – losing 2-1 to Germany at Maracanã – the national team have recently struggled to reach the high levels of their predecessors.
Between 1984 and 1991, the outstanding Pia Sundhage, then as a player, helped Sweden win their first-ever gold at a major tournament at the 1984 European Championship. Then, at the World Cup a few years later, she was one of Sweden’s best players as they finished third, beating Germany 4-0 win in the third-place play-off.
After a short hiatus, a golden generation emerged with Victoria Svensson, Hanna Ljungberg, Malin Moström and Hanna Marklund all playing for some of Europe’s best clubs, including Umeå IK in the north of Sweden, who won back-to-back Champions League trophies in 2003 and 2004. With those players forming the backbone of the national team, Sweden entered the 2003 World Cup as one of the favorites but lost against Germany in the final.
Which player is going to surprise everyone at the World Cup?
Sofia Jakobsson. The 29-year-old Montpellier forward was voted the best player in France by the managers in 2015 and has more than 100 caps for Sweden. She is very quick and uses her pace to go past players and create chances for teammates. Her creativity is key for Sweden.
What is the realistic aim for Sweden and why?
Sweden enter the World Cup ranked ninth in the world but have been drawn with the reigning champions, the United States, in the group and could therefore face a tricky last 16 game. Reaching the quarterfinals should be a realistic aim while going out in the group would be a monumental fiasco.
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