Sweden have booked their ticket in the Women’s World Cup quarter-final after edging past Canada 1-0 in Paris.
The first-half proved a rather tame affair as both sides struggled to impose any form of an attacking threat, with not a single shot on target to worry either ‘keeper.
However, that tempo soon ramped up a gear after the interval, and Sweden eventually produced the opening – and only – goal of the match through Stina Blackstenius.
Her decisive finish has now set up a quarter-final encounter against Germany on Saturday at the Stade de la Route de Lorient, but what did we learn in the French capital tonight?
1. Blackstenius opens Sweden account
Stina Blackstenius was top goalscorer in Sweden’s World Cup qualifying campaign with three goals against Hungary and Croatia respectively, but she has finally opened her account at France 2019, dinking a delightful shot over Stephanie Labbe to break the deadlock.
Incredibly, her goal in the 55th minute was the first shot on target at the Parc des Princes, from either side, but what a sensational finish it was. Kosovare Asllani picked the ball up on the left flank, before surging infield and caressing a sublime pass to set Blackstenius through on goal.
With Labbe rushing off her line intent on closing the gap, Blackstenius had to adjust her body quickly, but she was the epitome of composure in that split second, delectably releasing the ball from her feet, before coolly poking it over the Canadian shot-stopper.
In a match that was crying out for a moment of pure inspiration, Asllani and Blackstenius combined to score one of the tournament’s best goals to date – a brilliant, well-worked effort from the Swedish duo.
2. Lindahl enters history books
Blue and Yellow goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl has etched her name into the history books after becoming the first Swedish shot-stopper to save a penalty at a Women’s World Cup, and what an impeccable diving save it was as well.
VAR once again played a huge role in trying to determine the outcome of a match. There was controversy in the previous game of the day between the United States and Spain, and that threatened to spill over in the French capital. A shot from Desiree Scott appeared to strike the arm of Asllani, and upon further inspection, via the customary slow motion reply, her arm was a little wide of her body. By today’s interpretation, that is now considered a penalty, and Canada had the chance to draw level.
With the nation’s first shot on target, Janine Beckie had the golden chance to bring Canada back into the game, but Lindahl produced a brilliant save to deny her, showing excellent dexterity to fire her side past the round of 16.
3. Penalties aplenty
Sticking with the theme of spot-kicks at the Women’s World Cup, and there have now been 22 awarded in this instalment of the competition, which is the same number of penalties that were awarded in the entirety of the 2015 edition. That works out to a spot-kick just about every other match.
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Of the 22 taken, 16 have been converted, with Brazil and the United States the biggest beneficiaries with three apiece. It’s clear VAR has had a tremendous impact at this tournament, and while the revolutionary technology has certainly benefited the game for referees, it now seems that unless a player purposely ties their hands behind their back, they run a monumental risk of conceding a penalty.
Asllani’s handball was certainly harsh, but the referees in France this month have been fairly consistent with adjudging incidents of that manner as infringements, though if this keeps up, the interpretation of a handball will have to be altered.
4. Canada’s poor record goes on
Canada have now lost 12 of their previous 14 encounters against European sides at the Women’s World Cup. Looking a little closer at that record, and they have only scored more than once on only one occasion.
This evening in Paris they failed to really stamp their authority on proceedings, firing a blank as Sweden edged past in a tense match. The North American nation enjoyed far more possession – notably in the first half – but struggled to unlock the Swedish defence.
Their missed penalty will come as a bitter blow, as they have now failed to exact revenge from their United States 2003 semi-final collision, in which they lost 2-1 to the Blue and Yellow, with the winner, incidentally, also going on to face Germany that year as well.
5. Conservative approach subdues attacking impetus
Both these sides entered the match having scored a combined 11 goals in their opening group matches, but any promise of a goal fest was soon quashed upon realisation that both Kenneth Heiner-Moller and Peter Gerhardsson opted for a more reserved approach rather than rolling the dice and giving their attacking talent license to flourish; and the result: not a single shot on target in the first half.
Such was the lack of intensity, vim and vigour in the opening 45 minutes that the Blue and Yellow registered just five touches in the opposition box, while Canada fared not much better with only 15, though at least they made it to double digits.
Dissecting the tactics a little further and it becomes manifest just how much of an attacking edge was missing from this nervy encounter; of Sweden’s 174 passes in the first half, only 18 successfully ended in the final third, while Canada mustered just 32 from 258 passes.
The tempo and intensity picked up tremendously after the restart, but Sweden will need to start with their second-half form from the off against Germany if they are to have any hope of progressing to the penultimate stage of this year’s World Cup.