Sweden beat England 2-1 in Nice on Saturday to seal third place at the 2019 Women’s World Cup.
A slow start and yet more defensive lapses from Phil Neville’s side saw Sweden race into a 2-0 lead within 22 minutes thanks to goals from Kosovare Asllani and Sofia Jakobsson, while England stabilised and pulled one back through the impressive Fran Kirby just after the half-hour mark.
Ellen White was once again denied an equaliser thanks to a tight VAR call while both sides had chances to add to their tallies as the game wore on.
But what did we learn from this end-to-end clash?
1. Defensive lapses strike again
England’s run to another Women’s World Cup semi-final has been an inspiration and great to watch but, my word, they’ve made it tough for themselves at times. Defensive lapses and casual mistakes when playing out from the back littered the Lionesses’ group stage performances, as well as in large parts of the knockouts, and they didn’t go away during the third-place playoff.
Sweden were ahead with 11 minutes when England left-back Alex Greenwood botched her clearance, which may well have been an attempt at a pass, leaving Kosovare Asllani to fire home beyond Carly Telford from the edge of the area.
England were then 2-0 down as Lucy Bronze and Steph Houghton gave far too much time and space to Sofia Jakobsson, who cut inside and curled one inside the far post on her right foot.
Things could have been far worse for England before they finally got a foothold in the game on the half-hour mark, with Houghton, in particular, having some very rough moments in defence.
There’s a lot to admire about Phil Neville’s side but England have ended this tournament having made eight errors leading to shots – twice the amount of any other team. If they’re to seriously challenge the likes of the USA again, these mistakes simply must be stopped.
2. VAR denies White… again
Ellen White has been the star of the show for England in France this summer, scoring six goals and turning herself into something of an icon with that celebration. Without the intervention of VAR, it could have been even better for White and England.
The Man City forward was cruelly denied an equaliser in the semi-final against USA when the spare leather of her boot was judged to be offside in the tightest of calls.
This time, she brilliantly controlled a Beth Mead delivery and turned Linda Sembrant before firing another clinical finish beyond Sweden stopper, Hedvig Lindahl. Out came the celebration but, once again, it was cut short as the referee was called over to the VAR screen to take a look.
A very, very unfortunate handball, which White could do little about, was spotted and, once again, White had to see a goal chalked off.
As jarring as the decisions VAR has given at this World Cup have felt, they’re generally correct. However, you can’t help but feel sympathy for White, who is now likely to miss out on a share of that Golden Boot given that Alex Morgan still has a final to play.
3. Kirby finally gets her goal
Given the high expectations set on her by both herself and fans, it’s been quite a tough World Cup for Fran Kirby, who has never quite looked 100% fit.
On Saturday, though, we finally saw spark into life. The Chelsea forward was fed by a superb pass from the impressive Jill Scott and from there, she cut inside onto her left foot, absolutely terrifying the Swedish defence before firing home into the far corner, bringing England back into the game after a tough start.
That was her first and only goal of this World Cup and although it’s a shame Kirby has saved her best performance for a third-place playoff, it was still fun to watch, with the 26-year-old often the architect of all England’s promising play against the Swedish.
4. Another medal for Sweden
It may not have been the one they wanted, but you can’t help but admire Sweden for picking up yet another Women’s World Cup medal.
Beating England 2-1 on Saturday means the Scandinavians now have three bronze medals and a silver on the world’s biggest stage. That elusive World Cup title still eludes them but they’re still a force to be reckoned with.
Sweden were the only group stage opponents to really give the USA an examination which, in hindsight, may have awoken the beast which has motored through the knockout stages so far. Furthermore, their 2-1 defeat of Germany in the quarter-finals was a remarkable performance and one of the brilliant shocks of the knockout rounds.
The medal is a souvenir of a job well done for Peter Gerhardsson and his side.
5. Farewell to Carney
144 caps, 32 goals, three international semi-finals an a SheBelieves Cup win. It’s been a hell of a ride, but Karen Carney has finally brought the curtain down on a wonderful career.
At just 31, many were shocked by her decision to retire following this World Cup but Carney herself has admitted she just doesn’t have anything left to give and would rather bow out now, with no regrets.
“I am incredibly proud to have achieved so much in the game,” she said upon making her announcement. “But now is definitely the right time to retire. I don’t think I have any more in the tank.
“I’ve given my heart and soul to club and country, there’s nothing more I can physically or mentally give. I have no regrets.”
Neville handed Carney the swansong she deserved against Sweden, bringing her on with 15 minutes to go as England searched for an equaliser and, more importantly, a final medal for cap off her career – even if it was only a bronze.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, but Carney can still be incredibly proud of her achievements for club and country.