Football Features

“Popp goes Germany” – Five things learned as Sweden make the World Cup semi-finals

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 19:43, 29 June 2019

In a shocking upset, Sweden came from behind to beat Germany 2-1.

The win puts Sweden into the World Cup semi-finals for the first time since 2011. What did we learn?

1. Blackstenius Rising

The saying always goes that “defence wins titles” and sure, you need a good defence, but when you want to win a tournament, win a title, you need a goalscorer. Putting the ball in the back of the net is the single-biggest difference-maker in the game and players who can do it regularly in big KO games are worth their weight in gold.

Stina Blackstenius is a goalscorer with that kind of talent, but it’s often hard to keep her consistently scoring. She scored against the USA in 2016 as Sweden knocked the Americans out, but that was her only goal. Then, at Euro 2017, she scored in the first and final group games, but nothing more. And here, at the World Cup, she was scoreless in the three group games.

But then she scored the only goal of the game against Canada in the round-of-16. A wonderful finish after a smooth bit of lateral movement into space. That was good, but then this evening against Germany, she appeared again to smash Sweden into the lead. It was a scrappy goal, but she finished emphatically to win the game for the second round in a row.

This is the first tournament that Blackstenius has played in where she has scored in consecutive games. For a goalscorer like her, that is an enormous boost of confidence and could end up making the difference for what is already a solid and organised Sweden side.

2. Popp goes Germany

Alexandra Popp is a striker, one of Germany’s best strikers. An incredible presence with great skill and ability that scares defenders and creates chances for team-mates. She came into this game having scored two goals in her last two games at the World Cup. Then, for some reason, Germany started her in central midfield.

It was a baffling decision from Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, but a testament to her quality is the fact that Popp was excellent in that midfield role. She sprayed the ball around with confidence but the problem was that without her up-front, Germany were left waiting for Lina Magull magic to actually make the most of all their possession.

With 20 minutes left, teenager Lena Oberdorf came on to replace her in midfield and Popp finally pushed up-front. And this was easily Germany’s best period in the game since the opening 20 minutes.

Popp might even have earned a penalty after getting clattered by Hedvig Lindahl trying to head a cross, only for VAR to give a precision offside decision with the defending side. That sort of incident is technically correct but never really feels right.

Regardless, Germany are now out. All because they put their in-form striker back into midfield. They aimed for more control but, in the end, gave the game away to the surging Swedes.

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3. Germany’s defenders finally exposed

Marina Hegering and Sara Doorsoun aren’t what you would call top-class defenders. They’re alright, especially Doorsoun, who has incredible recovery pace, but they’re not top-class. Despite that, they came into this game having kept a remarkable four straight clean sheets.

However, those clean sheets have created a sense that Germany can rely on their defence in the same way that, say, England or the USA are capable of doing. They are not. Sweden repeatedly exposed the German centre-backs and their shocking decision-making.

Sweden’s first goal came from a simple long ball that Hegering basically misjudged the flight of. She tried to head clear but the ball sailed over her head and Sofia Jakobsson finished cooly.

Then, the second goal was a scrappy effort after a bit of in-box pinball, sure, but a more commanding defender would have gotten the ball clear before that. Hell, Hegering let eventual goalscorer Stina Blackstenius get ahead of her in the box rather than ensuring she remained between the Swede and the ball. It was quite fitting that it was Hegering who then also missed an absolutely crucial chance late in the game, her humiliation completion.

4. Lina Magull is a gem

It can’t be easy coming into a side as stacked and steeped in offensive genius as Germany’s, but Lina Magull has fully established herself as a starter now and this game showed exactly what she can bring to a team.

Everything about her goal just oozed imagination and quality. She saw Sara Dabritz’s run and instantly set off into the box, and when Dabritz found her, Magull could have done something ordinary to score, but she instead flicked the ball up and then acrobatically volleyed the ball at the goal. And not just at the goal, but right between Almuth Schult’s legs!

Germany didn’t end up winning, but that was through no fault of Magull’s who remained the German’s most vibrant attacking threat despite the presence of Dabritz and, later on, the magical Dzenifer Marozsan. Magull turns 25 in August and will be one of the key pieces Germany turn to in order to re-establish their dominance of the European Championships in 2021.

5. Take Sweden seriously

As the tournament has progressed all the hype has revolved around the USA, France, Norway and, to an extent, Germany and England. People are looking at Sweden progressing and just sort of nodding their heads, accepting that it’s happening without remarking too much on it.

Perhaps this win over Germany, unseating the powerhouse multi-time Euro winners, will raise heads. But maybe not. Sweden have been incredibly solid, losing only to the USA and even then they gave the Americans a real game. Speaking of the USA, Sweden are the only side to have knocked them out of a tournament since 2011 (they beat them in the 2016 Olympic Games quarter-final). Moreover, Sweden are the only quarter-final side to have conceded the first goal and, despite the oppressive heat, come back to win.

They are no joke!