Sweden snaps drought against rival Germany in World Cup quarters
RENNES, France -- The third time the question was asked, albeit in different words -- and in a new language -- it drew a sigh.
One day before Sweden was set to play Germany in the final quarterfinal match of this tournament, a reporter asked Swedish head coach Peter Gerhardsson why he believed his squad could beat the Germans, why this year would be any different than the past 24, and finally, if his team was frightened to play the No. 2 team in the world.
Gerhardsson held his tongue and, with a glance, handed the question over to his defender, Hanna Glas, who was seated to his right.
"Frightened?" Glas responded, as if to first confirm she heard the question accurately. "No, we're not frightened. We aren't scared of their physical game. We are quite physical, as well."
Saturday night at Roazhon Park, Glas and her teammates made good on her prediction, as the Swedish women's national team beat its German rivals at a major international tournament for the first time in nearly 2½ decades.
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With the 2-1 win, Sweden advances to the semifinals for the fourth time in team history. They've made it to the gold-medal match only once, in 2003. One guess whom they lost to that year? Yep, Germany.
Since that day, Swedish teams had lost every other match against their German foes -- until Saturday. No longer -- or at least for the duration of this tournament -- will Glas and her teammates have to field questions about their "German ghost." Instead, they will spend the next few days traveling to Lyon and preparing to take on the Netherlands in Wednesday's semifinal.
Here are five takeaways from Sweden's momentous quarterfinal win:
An emotional win can lift a team.
As you read this, it's possible the Swedish women are still on the field in Rennes, celebrating one of their biggest wins in recent history. After the match, the team gathered in a circle at the center of the field, danced in front of their friends and family, and then took a full-squad victory lap around the stadium while they hugged and waved and wiped away tears. This is the kind of emotional victory that can propel a team beyond expectations. Not for nothing, the Netherlands, the reigning European champions, experienced a similar victory just a few hours earlier, advancing to the semifinals at a Women's World cup for the first time in history. Wednesday night in Lyon promises to be hot for more reasons than one.
This is not the same team the U.S. defeated in the final game of group play.
Sweden looked much different Saturday night from the team that played the Americans last week. That's because it was. On June 20, Sweden played many of its reserves and allowed its stars to rest in a largely meaningless match. Saturday night, Gerhardsson played the same starting XI that gutted out a tough 1-0 win over Canada in the round of 16 on Monday, and he'll run with a similar lineup Wednesday night in Lyon.
Once again, the Swedes were structured and strategic, but also creative and entertaining throughout, even flashy at times. Instead of attempting to win a possession game against the Germans, the Swedes utilized long balls and attacking speed to get behind Germany's defensive line and expose their weaknesses. Before Saturday, Germany had yet to concede a goal, outscoring their opponents 9-0.
Gerhardsson will be forced to shift his forwards.
Sweden came into Saturday's game with four starters already booked with yellow cards, and on Friday, Gerhardsson said he would make sure his players were smart about collecting fouls. But in the 56th minute, starting forward Fridolina Rolfo, who was integral in several of Sweden's chances Saturday, including the go-ahead goal by 23-year-old Stina Blackstenius in the 48th minute, received a yellow card and will now miss Wednesday's semifinal match.
The heat was a factor.
Although they dominated possession from whistle to whistle, Germany looked tired and flat in the second half, and the tempo of the match dropped off. Already up 2-1, the Swedes came out of the 75-minute water break refreshed and fired up after an animated pep talk by goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl, and scoring opportunities for both teams dropped off late in the second half, when the heat certainly began to affect both squads. The temperature was 90 degrees at the start of the match, not at all typical playing weather for these European teams. Next week in Lyon doesn't promise to be much cooler.
The Olympics will be lacking.
After Saturday, six of the 12 teams that will compete in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo are set, including the three that will represent Europe: the Netherlands, England and Sweden. With their quarterfinal losses, defending champs Germany and No. 4 France failed to qualify. "We're qualified for the Olympics, and that's been hanging over our heads for a while," Gerhardsson said after the match. "Now we are playing for World Cup medals."