Belgian Heartbreak But Swedes Are Better Than This

ImpetusJean-Pierre Thiesset and Ben Gilby reflect on last night’s Quarter-Final tie at Leigh. Jean-Pierre rounds up the match action, whilst Ben sounds a warning to England fans stating that the Swedes are a far better team than the one we saw last night (23/7/22).

Above: Linda Sembrant hits Sweden’s last gasp winner. Photo: Svensk Fotboll.

Riddled By Major Disruptions To Preparations, Winning Was All That Mattered For Sweden

by Ben Gilby

So many issues, so many challenges for Sweden around this game. Where to start? Essentially, for me, there are two things that need to be taken away from last night’s match.

First, the news all week coming out of the Swedish camp around a COVID outbreak that claimed Jonna Andersson, Jennifer Falk, Hanna Bennison, Hanna Glas, and Emma Kullberg. The disruptions and uncertainty around the availability of players at short notice and the impact on training preparations – several had to train separately away from the main group – was immense.

Sweden head coach Peter Gerhardsson’s quote to the media on Wednesday was particularly telling:

“I think it’s more important to look at what players are available because we want to have the best players out on the pitch.”

Peter Gerhardsson, Sweden head coach.

The Swedes have one of the greatest strengths in depth of any team in this competition, but the impact of the COVID outbreak was monumental. Only making one substitution during the 90 minutes – the introduction of Bennison with six minutes to go, highlights the aspect of Sweden’s head coach having to play this match with one hand tied behind his back.

Let’s go back to that Gerhardsson quote about “what players are available”. I think it’s possible to argue that this is actually a multi-layered answer if you drill a bit deeper. Whilst we know COVID took out five players, there were others missing who you would expect to be there – Lina Hurtig and Sofia Jakobson for example.

Then, of course the iconic 200 cap Caroline Seger was just a watcher on the sidelines. This was an incalculable loss for Sweden. Seger is an absolute legend of the women’s game who just needs to stand on a football pitch to command respect and inspire her team.

Above: Johanna Rytting Kaneryd – not a recognisable name for some, but a superb player, who got a full 90 minutes last night. Photo: Svensk Fotboll.

What this did do was allow the presence of a player who may still fly under the radar to get 90 minutes of a quarter-final – Johanna Rytting Kaneryd. The BK Häcken midfielder, who only made her international debut in February 2021, is a superbly talented attacking talent and at the age of 25, you can’t help but feel she is going to get even better.

Rytting Kaneryd was my ‘one to watch’ for Sweden at this tournament amidst a squad of big-name players, and she provided some excellent moments of pace and ball control.

The selection challenges also resulted in Amanda Nildén being handed a competitive debut at the age of 23 in defence. Despite her relative young age, Nildén has been recognised as a hugely promising player for many years. The Swedish defence is notoriously tough to break into due to the calibre of players to pick from, but Nildén is a player who you can expect to see in yellow and blue for the next decade.

Above: Amanda Nildén on her competitive debut for Sweden last night. Photo: Svensk Fotboll.

Yes, Sweden had 32 shots and only scored one at the death. But when you have a team shorn of such a number of players whose availability was clouded in doubt until the last moments, tactics, build-up play and creativity avenues will never be as clear as in a normal preparation.

Of those shots, 10 were on target, and with Belgium having Nicky Evrard in sensational form in goal, it made life even tougher for the Swedes.

At the start of this reflection from last night, I mentioned two things to take away from this match. The second is a message for Lionesses fans.

Above: Sweden’s path to the Olympic silver medal included a 3-0 win over World champions USA. Photo: Yoshikazu Tsuno/AFP.

Do not be lulled into a false sense of security about England’s semi-final opponents. They finished third (World Cup 2019) and second (Olympics 2021) at their last two international tournaments and are an outstanding team. That doesn’t change on the back of last night.

Sweden have massive experience, they have a head coach who knows his stuff, and with another three days of preparation to get players back on board, they will pose England an almighty threat that can potentially be far stronger than the one Spain offered.

There is a valid argument that England’s attacking style could play into Sweden’s hands. Gerhardsson’s team are masterful in defence, with adaptability throughout the midfield to not just boost their front players, but crucially to provide extra cover at the back.

Above: Hedvig Lindahl – whose quick thinking set in motion a dangerous attack last night. Photo: Svensk Fotboll.

That backline can also kickstart dangerous attacks in a flash. Last night, we saw one such example of that when Hedvig Lindahl showed quick thinking to place a rapid-fire drop kick into the midfield that ended in Stina Blackstenius putting the ball in the back of the net – a move which was eventually ruled offside.

England will have every right to be confident after seeing off Spain – but fans just beware, Sweden are going to be a very tough nut to crack.

Sweden 1-0 Belgium

by Jean-Pierre Thiesset

Above: Sweden celebrate after their win over Belgium at the death last night. Photo: Svensk Fotboll.

There was one surprise in starters, Johanna Rytting Kaneryd, was preferred to Lina Hurtig or Sofia Jakobson in the Sweden team in the right forward slot.

Sweden started by putting a strong pressure on Belgium making it difficult for the underdogs players to get forward. After 10 minutes, Belgium adapted their game and their rigor allowed them to better manage the pressure.

On a fast counterattack at the 25th minute, Stina Blackstenius put the ball in the net for Sweden, but the goal was ruled offside in a very marginal call. Whilst Belgium created the odd chance here and there, it was the Olympic silver medallists who ramped up the pressure once more.

Sweden restarted with the same strong pressure, and they quickly had opportunities to score by putting more intensity in their game. As the game reached the hour mark, this combination of pressure and intensity made its mark on Belgium who began to tire.

Above: Nicky Evrard’s outstanding display earned her the player of the match trophy, but it was little consolation for a heartbreaking loss. Photo: Euro 2022.

Belgium were though inspired by their goalkeeper, Nicky Evrard, who was on fire making some superb saves throughout the game. Finally though, and in the most heartbreaking way for the underdogs, a goal arrived two minutes into stoppage time at the end of 90 minutes when Linda Sembrant forced the ball home.

It was so cruel for Belgium which produced a great effort, fighting until the end but Sweden was stronger, and I still do not understand how Sweden players were not able to score sooner with 32 shots in 90 minutes. If a team is looking for a great goalkeeper, Evrard is one who can do the job.

Teams: SWEDEN (4-2-3-1): Lindahl, Nildén, Eriksson, Sembrant, Ilestedt, Björn, Asllani, Angeldahl (Bennison 84′), Rolfö, Blackstenius, Rytting Kaneryd.

Scorer: Sembrant 90+2′.

BELGIUM (4-3-3): Evrard, Philtjens, De Neve, Kees, Deloose (Dhont 67′), Biesmans, (Missipo 88), Vanhaevermaet, Minnaert, Wullaert, De Caigny, Cayman.

Referee: Kateryna Monzul (Ukraine).

Attendance: 7,576.

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