Women’s World Cup Semi-Finals – Sweden vs. Spain
A battle of the European powerhouses looms between Sweden and Spain in the first semi-final of the women’s World Cup.
Sweden have been very impressive this tournament. This team had a lot to prove, after crashing out of the Euros last summer in the semi-finals in shocking form, losing 4-0 to England. There were concerns about how they would perform in this tournament and these questions kept coming, even in the early stages of the tournament, with pundits suggesting that they had an easy group and wouldn’t be able to face the big name teams.
They have proved everybody wrong. They have knocked out two previous World Cup winners in the USA and Japan, and that is no easy feat.
Their performance against the USA was scrappy at times, but they showed true grit and determination to edge a nail-biting penalty shootout. Their quarter-final against Japan was a thing of beauty. The Swedes were truly playing at their best, were disciplined and clean, taking their chances when they came but reorganising quickly to cut off any Japanese momentum.
Sweden are in impressive form and peaking at the right time. They seem to have a really strong team connection and their talented players across the pitch are stepping up.
Amanda Ilestedt has been a standout for the team. Not only a reliable central defender, but a threat up front who has scored four goals so far, putting her in the running for the golden boot.
But, this has been a tournament of superb goalkeeping and Sweden’s Zećira Mušović has been outstanding, with the round of 16 game against USA a particular standout for her. The reigning champions had an impressive 22 chances, but none got past her. She headed into penalties with confidence and it seemed to work, with seasoned veterans like Megan Rapinoe and Kelley O’Hara missing their attempts. She has been solid and will be vital in the upcoming game against Spain.
One of Sweden’s secret weapons this tournament has been set-pieces. Eight of their 11 goals have come from corners or free kicks. They know this is a strength of theirs, and they look to create these opportunities in games and will certainly be looking to do the same against Spain. When they do, they are a real threat and hard to defend with everyone on the team looking like a goal scoring threat.
But, Spain are also in impressive form, scoring a lot of goals from a variety of scorers, both in the starting 11 and off the bench. Despite their off-field problems they have managed to put any issues aside and reach this stage in the world cup for the first time in their history.
They too, have superstar talent across the pitch including Barcelona’s Aitana Bonmatí, a midfield magician who reads the game so well, creates chances and has great shooting range, scoring goals from outside the box. Alongside her, returning from an ACL injury, is Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas, who we haven’t seen much of this tournament so far. She is certainly a threat and having her on the bench is a scary prospect. She too reads the game well, creates pockets of space, and links up play fluidly.
This Spanish team have a unique style of play and they stick to it, they trust the process. They have been playing in a 4-3-3 formation with a high press, playing a possession heavy game and it is working for them.
They are finding a rhythm, and the mixture of seasoned talent and younger players is providing a breath of fresh air from other Spain teams we have seen in the past. Individual players shine, but the collective is strong and they work well together at connecting passes and creating chances. Sweden don’t mind not being in possession, but these passes are hard to mark and could cause the Swedes some problems.
Spain seem favourites to win this game, but you can never doubt the Swedes and the performances they are putting in suggest that this might not be as easy as pundits expect.
Tune into BBC One on Tuesday 15th August at 9:00am BST.