‘Good chemistry’ takes Sweden into familiar territory at Women’s World Cup
They don’t attract the same level of attention as many of their rivals, but Sweden might be starting to quietly believe this is their year after reaching yet another semifinal at the Women’s World Cup.
The pre-tournament talk was about the United States and a third straight title, England adding the World Cup to their European crown and Australia going for glory on home soil.
But Sweden is ranked third in the world for a reason and is now gearing up for a third World Cup semifinal in four editions after beating Japan 2-1 on Friday.
After losing to the Netherlands in the last four in 2019, and to Japan at the same stage in 2011, Sweden face Spain on Tuesday hoping to secure a first final appearance since 2003, when they were edged out by Germany.
It is not just the World Cup though. Peter Gerhardsson’s team were also beaten semi-finalists at last year’s Euro.
In fact, they have reached at least the semi-finals eight times in their last 10 appearances at the European Championship, without winning the title. They have also been silver medallists at the last two Olympics.
Sweden might have fallen short all too often when it comes to the crunch, but all that past experience could serve them well against a Spain team appearing at this stage of the World Cup for the first time.
“We have been in this situation before, playing semi-finals. It’s huge. We just have a really good team,” said veteran forward Sofia Jakobsson.
The 33-year-old is one of the most seasoned campaigners in Gerhardsson’s squad, having been part of the team at the 2011 World Cup.
She has seen many players come and go, and only four of the team that started against Japan also lined up in the 2019 semi-final.
‘Trust each other’
Jakobsson puts Sweden’s consistency down to the players getting on with each other, something which may appear simplistic but is helpful at a major tournament when teams spend weeks together in hotels far from home.
“We push each other in training, we have really good fun outside the field and I just think we really have a good chemistry in the group,” she said.
“Obviously it helps when you win games as well.”
Sweden was one of just three teams to win all three group games, along with Japan and England.
They overcame the USA on penalties before ending Japan’s run, winning 2-1 at Eden Park thanks to defender Amanda Ilestedt’s fourth goal at the tournament and Filippa Angeldal’s penalty.
The triumph sparked wild celebrations in the dressing room that were captured on video and relayed on social media.
“The chemistry in the team is crucial for us. We really enjoy being together and I think if you are happy off the pitch it shows on the pitch,” said captain Kosovare Asllani.
“If you trust each other off the pitch, you trust each other on the pitch. You need to work on these things and we do it daily.
“That is a big strength we have on the team. We just really like each other.”
Yet Asllani, of AC Milan, knows there is more to it. Sweden, she pointed out, has also shown they can win in a variety of ways.
In the group phase, they went from a last-minute winner against South Africa to a 5-0 destruction of Italy, to a 2-0 win over Argentina with a virtual reserve team.
They then held out to beat the USA in a shoot-out, before outplaying Japan for over an hour.
Gerhardsson, in charge since 2017, has fostered that team spirit and trusts his players.
“They are very meticulous, always interested, and they always give 100 percent, and during tournaments like this we become more like a club team,” said the 63-year-old.
“The players are excellent at coaching one another,” he added.
“You don’t always want a coach shouting at you from the sidelines, you want to make your own decisions.”
He will hope leaving his players to get on with the job pays off as they enter the familiar territory of another semifinal.