Peerless Swedes March On

New Zealand 0-2 Sweden

By Catherine Paquette

Pictured: Anna Anvagård celebrates her goal for Sweden. Photo: Getty Images.

The New Zealand team saw little change to their starting line-up from the last match against the United States.  

The Kiwis had a very improbable chance of exiting the group stage, dependent on a winner in the Australia-USA match, other group results and needing a big win to make up goal difference. 

With nothing to lose, coach Tom Sermanni kept his best players on the field.  The back line and defensive midfields were the same. Olivia Chance dropped to the bench, replaced by Emma Rolston.

The Swedes for their part rested Stina Blackstenius, Hanna Glas, Hedvig Lindahl and Fridolina Rolfö.  Lina Hurtig, Sofia Jacobsson, Caroline Seger and Kosovare Aslanni who were on the bench.  This was to be expected.  Knowing they were almost assured progression into the knock-out phase, rotation of players is arguably vital for long term performance in the Olympic tournament.

The formation for the Football Ferns remained 4-2-3-1.  The Swedes for their part changed from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2.

  

The first half started off with the Football Ferns attacking.  However, this did not last long.  While Sweden originally did not apply a lot of forward pressure on the Kiwis, their good defending prevented the Ferns from entering the final third in the first few minutes of the match.

Once Sweden got the ball though, the direction of attack changed.  Building slowly out of the back, the Swedes focused on linking passes while keeping possession.  Their first shot on goal came in the twelfth minute when Olivia Schough’s strike was blocked by the Kiwi defence. Schough struck again in the fifteenth minute only to have Fern goalkeeper Erin Nayler deny her this time.

The opening goal came a minute later.  Schough kicked the ball into the box off a corner where Anna Anvagård headed it home. While the New Zealanders tried to continue attacking to equalize, it was the Swedes who struck again thirteen minutes later. This time it was Hanna Benninson who received the ball outside the eighteen yard box.  She then crossed it in and found Madelen Janogy who headed it past Nayler.  The Swedes were up 2-0 at the thirtieth minute.

This was going to be a difficult score line for the Football Ferns to come back from.  They did try though.  Five minutes after the second Swedish goal, a quick succession of three opportunities nearly resulted in a Kiwi goal.  Rolston had shot on goal but it was stopped by Swedish goalkeeper Jennifer Falk.  A rebound shot by Katie Bowen was also stopped.  That rebound was picked up by Betsy Hassett who dribbled it and shot wide.

This was the Football Ferns’ best opportunity of the first half.  The remainder of the time found the Kiwis largely trying to exit their own half.  The Swedish goals motivated their squad who seemed to put more energy into pressing the Ferns and limiting their space and passing lanes.  

Above: Olivia Schough celebrates with Emma Kulberg after a Swedish goal. Photo: Getty Images

The second half continued very much in that fashion.  While the Swedish pressure was not persistent, their defence remained disciplined with only three other Kiwi shots making it through.  The Swedes did try to push forwards and go for a third goal but without exerting too much energy needed in the next few days when the knock-out phase starts.  The second half finished as it started, 2-0 for the Swedes. 

The Swedish tactics for attacks in this match focused largely on possessing the ball, building up without mistakes, and being patient to create chances.  They did not play with the same urgency and creativity in midfield as they had in previous matches, mainly because they did not have the same personnel, but also because they did not need to.  They were almost assured to exit the group stage.  Despite the rotation of players, ensuring that all on the roster remain fresh for what can be three more games was essential and therefore did not call for overexertion in this final group stage. 

Overall the Swedish tactics against the Ferns were relatively straightforward.  Like the other Kiwi opponents in the tournament, forward pressure was applied.  When this occurred in Swedish attacks the pressure resulted in quick reactive clearances during defensive plays by the Kiwis, often to an opponent or to a space with no teammate present.  This was quite similar to previous New Zealand matches.  

Defense-wise the Kiwis also often had issues clearing the ball out as they committed a lot of players back.  When the ball went forward there was no one to retrieve and keep it. The Ferns also often struggled under pressure to find passing lanes, something the Swedes also denied them through proper positioning.  In this game it further reduced the ability of the Kiwis to exit their own half at times.  

This is not to say that the Ferns could not build attacks.  They were able to link passes well for some spells, but in the end were prone to making mistakes.  This resulted in easy turnovers.  They also often played too close to each other, making it easier to defend.  Most frustrating, the Kiwis often were able to make it to the final third only to cross the ball into the box with no attacker being able to get it.  Overall they often lacked the ability to do the simple things well.

Above: Anna Anvagård challenges New Zealand’s Katie Bowen. Photo: Getty Images.

They were arguably underprepared entering this tournament, having not played once since the pandemic bar a closed doors match a week before the Olympics started.  That match occurred less than 48 hours after their full squad had finally reunited for the first time in 16 months. Compare this to their group stage opponents. The Australians had played five matches in 2021 and spent the last six weeks together.  The Americans had played thirteen matches in the last six months and their final group stage opponents Sweden who had played eight matches in that time.

Hopefully, more preparation will occur in the upcoming years ahead of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup which New Zealand will host alongside Australia. Despite having reached five World Cups and four Olympics, the Kiwis have only ever got beyond the group stage once.  The Football Ferns have the players for greater success than they have reached, but going forward they need the time together to accomplish this.

Teams: NEW ZEALAND: Naylor, Bott, Moore, Riley, Erceg, Percival, Hassett, Bowen, Cleverley, Rolston, Wilkinson. Substitutes used: Bunge, Rennie, Satchell.

SWEDEN: Falk, Andersson, Kullberg, Eriksson, Roddar, Bennison, Janogly, Schough, Angeldahl, Anvagård, Blomqvist. Substitutes used: Hurtig, Asllani, Ilestedt, Bjorn, Seger.

Scorers: Anvagård 17, Janogy 29.

Referee: Laura Fortunato (ARG).

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