Sweden 1-0 Belgium
Sweden had encountered a bit of a turbulent week. Trying to fight covid and prepare for Belgium at the same time.
With the way that the highest ranked team in the tournament played, you could tell.
The relief from every Swedish player, staff member and fan was more than evident as Linda Sembrant scored the winning goal, in the dying seconds of additional time, to send them through to the semi-final.
They made hard work of it, but they got there in the end.
In the lashing rain, Sweden should’ve had about three goals in the first half. Stina Blackstenius had a goal ruled out - because about half of her elbow was offside. Belgium looked very iffy defending corners and there were a couple of near misses.
The score remained 0-0 through a combination of Belgium goalkeeper Nicky Evrard throwing herself at everything and Sweden getting into a panic whenever they had a shooting opportunity. Filippa Angeldal in particular, forced a good save out of Evrard once but fumbled two other efforts off target.
Belgium did have some of it as well. Particularly very early on in the game, they were actually on top for a period. They played some good football but the final pass or finish was nowhere to be seen.
A bit like Denmark with Pernille Harder, Belgium could’ve done with cloning Tessa Wullaert or Janice Cayman, to add a touch more quality and composure in their forward areas.
Side note: It would be extremely shocking if the officials for this game got given the final. Both teams were rather unimpressed. There was some very basic throw in decisions which were incorrect for a start. The refereeing has been very good on the whole, but there were some bizarre decisions going on in this game. Nothing match defining, but still bizarre.
In the second half, the game began to look destined for at least extra time. It followed a similar pattern as the first but Sweden could still not get the ball into the net for love nor money.
Evrard made a decent save from Blackstenius. Angeldal had had about six shots by this point. Kosovare Asllani was having a go. As was Johanna Rytting Kaneryd. Fridolina Rolfö was basically marked out of the game and could not find her way into it.
Even Hanna Bennison, Sofia Jakobson and Lina Hurtig who were warming up in front of the South stand looked bemused at Sweden’s inability to score.
As for Belgium, they moved up the pitch nicely a few times. But by the time they got up there, about 8 players were back for Sweden and their final ball was even worse than Sweden’s. Elena Dhont in particular got into some good areas, but did not make anything of it.
As the game wore on, attack after attack passed by for Sweden. Belgium still had opportunities to catch Sweden on the break but still wasted every foray forward that they had and didn’t really fully commit.
Just as it felt like they could’ve been there until next week without a goal. Sweden got a corner in the penultimate minute of additional time.
As mentioned, Belgium had been all over the place dealing with corners throughout the game. This one was no different.
Evrard got a very unconvincing hand to Asllani’s delivery, then Nathalie Björn had a shot which Evrard saved but the ball fell to Linda Sembrant, who finally got it in the back of the net for Sweden.
Untidy, but it felt like that was the only way anyone was going to score in this game.
The final whistle went less than 30 seconds later.
Euphoria for Sweden. Killer for Belgium, but they were warned (33 times before the goal to be exact).
Belgium gave it their best.
They were riding their luck at times but Belgium left a good account of themselves.
However, with their play in the attacking third being the way that it was, they were going to find it difficult to get anywhere against Sweden.
Making it to the knockout round of a major tournament is all the more impressive when you consider that not all of Belgium’s players are even professional. Hopefully they are very much on the up and can use this as a springboard for further professionalisation.
England it is for Sweden in Sheffield on Tuesday then.
On that performance, Sweden will have a difficult time trying to win that game.
But that’s only on that performance. If they improve, which they likely will, they’ve got the players to challenge England. They dragged themselves through a relatively poor performance, after a difficult week. Despite it not being convincing, surely it will be confidence building.
England’s confidence will be brimming too. With the opportunity to reach the final of their home tournament in front of them, they will try to go hell for leather.
Sweden haven’t played particularly well yet. But are still in the semi final. If there was ever a time to start, it’s on Tuesday.