USA are one of the most feared teams at the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ this summer, having won their first two group matches with a 16-0 aggregate score, it’s a team most nations would like to avoid. However, the Swedish squad could not be more excited ahead of Thursday’s Group F finale.
“It’s the ultimate test, the type of match that we as a team need at this point of the tournament,” Kosovare Asllani, who’s been Visa Player of the Match in both of Sweden’s group games so far, told FIFA. “It’s a challenge for us but we also know that we always perform well against USA. It will be fun and I hope it will be an enjoyable match to watch as well.”
You can’t find a Women’s World Cup fixture with more history than Sweden versus USA. No other teams have met each other more times in the competition and this is the fifth time they have been placed in the same group.
“The teams are new every time but some players overlap, so even if the matches are new, you try to use some of the knowledge from the previous meetings to prepare as well as possible. And you try to pass that experience on to the rest of the team as well as you can” says Hedvig Lindahl, and few know what it’s like to play against the USA better than her.
At USA 2003, she watched on as the third-choice keeper, when Sweden lost against the USA. Four years later, she was on the pitch when it happened again. But in 2011 things changed, as Lindahl and Sweden claimed an historic 2-1 victory.
“It was a great feeling, a great boost for us,” Lindahl recalled. “I remember that after that match for the first time, when we shook hands with them, there was this great respect towards us. I think that was the first time they really took notice of us.”
It left the Swedes with confidence and they haven’t lost against the Stars and Stripes in a FIFA competition since. At the 2015 global finals it ended in a 0-0 draw and at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament at Rio 2016, Sweden became the first – and so far only – team to knock USA out before the semi-final stage of a major tournament, winning their quarter-final clash 4-3 on penalties following a 1-1 draw after extra time.
“They don’t have that mental advantage they might have had before when we hadn’t managed to beat them, now we know that we can,” Lindahl said.
Both Asllani and Lindahl highlight that one of the reasons they enjoy playing USA is that they have a very similar style to their own, and therefore is a team that fits them very well.
“We are both very physically strong, good in the air and with a good defence,” Asllani said. “Though the biggest difference might be that they have a big variation in their attack.”
However a change in coach with Peter Gerhardsson taking over for Pia Sundhage has seen a few changes in how the Swedes play.
“We are very well organised in our defence, and we can challenge them on set-pieces,” Lindahl said. “Historically we’ve given them a physical match. We have changed a bit in how we play so this time it might be a bit different.”
“We have a new coach who wants to play a more possession-based type of football, so it’s quite a big difference from how we played in the Olympics. We like to have the ball more now”, Asllani concluded.
One thing is for sure, the next instalment of the USA-Sweden Women’s World Cup saga – the battle for the top of 2019’s Group F – is certain to be an enthralling chapter of this already storied rivalry.