On Saturday afternoon, Sweden boss Pia Sundhage took to the podium at Ottawa's Lansdowne Stadium on Matchday Minus-1 and proclaimed that her side would need clinical set pieces and 'tidy' defensive work in order to orchestrate an unlikely yet possible upset of the world's top-ranked nation.
Fast-forward to Sunday evening, and Sundhage took to the podium again, facing a barrage of inquiries, mostly from Swedish media, after being handed an early exit from the tournament. Team selections, injuries, and her side's mental approach were all called into question after Sweden's 4-1 dismantling at the hands of Germany. To her credit, Sundhage did not sugarcoat nor conceal the state of her emotions and her squad.
"I'm really sad at the fact that we didn't advance to the next round, because it means so much to the women's game in Sweden," admitted the crestfallen former United States boss. "That's really tough, and it's a very sad day for Sweden, as this will be the first time in our history that we miss out on the Olympics."
Sundhage's side struggled for fitness throughout the tournament, drawing all three of its group matches before being dumped out of Canada 2015 in the Round of 16.
"There was never a time where the entire squad was fully fit," lamented the Swedish boss after Sunday's tournament exit. "We had three really hard matches before even facing Germany."
While the agony of defeat tinged the air on the Swedish bench and in Sundhage's post-match press conference, a largely-repressed thrill of victory emanated from the Germany camp after their textbook 4-1 win.
"I think we were clearly the better team," stated Die Nationalelf boss Silvia Neid, "we played extremely well against (Sweden's) set pieces, kept it simple, and pressured their central defenders."
And pressure Swedish defenders they did. Germany's notorious high press resulted directly in striker Anja Mittag's 24th-minute opening goal, as Sweden rightback Emma Berglund coughed up the ball to the tidal wave of Germans before Mittag slotted home from the edge of the 18-yard box.
"We simply denied them opportunities," continued Neid, the longtime head of Germany's women's football program. "We played well, but we are not yet world champions, and we now have to focus on likely France."
While Sweden's group stage performance had been something far less than dominant, there was hope in the buildup to Sunday afternoon's Round of 16 duel that Sundhage's side still had its best in front of it.
It simply turned out not to be the case, as Germany directed twenty-five shots towards Hedvig Lindahl's net, finding the target with eleven and bulging the Swedish twine with four.
Mittag's opening goal ought to have been the third or fourth on the afternoon for the Germans, who missed a plethora of chances in the opening ten minutes.
Celia Šaši? doubled the German lead from the penalty spot in the 36th minute before drawing level with Mittag for the tournament lead in goals with a headed tap-in on 78 minutes.
Linda Sembrandt drew the Swedes to the within two in the 82nd minute, rising above the pack to head home beautifully off of a free-kick, but it was not meant to be for Sundhage's side. Rising star Dzsenifer Marozsán, brought off the bench as an exclamation mark to Germany's impressive depth, chipped Lindahl two minutes from time to close out Sunday afternoon's scoring and make it 4-1 for Neid's side.
For Sweden, the loss equals an unexpectedly return home and some unkind firsts. The 4-1 defeat equalled the country's worst in tournament history, while the 2015 tournament represented the first time in Blãgult history that Sweden failed to win a match.
"I'm way too emotionally sad right now to analyze this match," sighed Sundhage in the post-match presser. "If you want to win that kind of game, when Germany plays that well, you have to be very good - and we weren't."
The loss will also present Swedish women's football with a chance to reflect. With eight players on the team's Canada 2015 roster age thirty or over, Sundhage's national program is entering a period of transition from one generation to another.
As Sweden prepares to analyze and learn from what will ultimately be classified as a disappointing tournament for the world's No. 5-ranked nation, Germany's view stays in the short-term and squarely on June 26th's quarterfinal in Montreal.
Silvia Neid's side, so dominant in accumulating a +17 goal differential in just four matches, will face one of France or South Korea, with Les Bleues heavily favoured by most media pundits as the team that will progress to meet Germany.
Story by Carlos Verde
Photos courtesy of FIFA Women's World Cup
Tag(s): Events News