England must pick themselves up from their semi-final defeat and refocus if they wish to claim third place at the 2019 Women’s World Cup by defeating Sweden in their third-fourth playoff at the Allianz Riviera stadium in Nice on Saturday (4pm, live on BBC).
Once again, England were just unable to break past the semi-final barrier in a major international tournament. After defeat in the final four at the 2015 World Cup and then again at Eur0 2017, it was the United States who got the better of them on Tuesday.
In truth, it was a match that could very easily have gone either way. The United States went in ahead at the interval following goals either side of Ellen White’s 19th-minute strike. England held their own and received a superb opportunity to take the match into extra-time when they were awarded a late penalty, only for Steph Houghton’s weak effort to be saved.
It was a bitter blow after going toe-to-toe with the competition holders and top-ranked team in the world over a back-and-forth 90 minutes of football in which chances were evenly distributed. Coach Phil Neville was quick to absolve Houghton of any personal blame for the defeat, even though she herself said that she felt like she had let the team down.
An impressive campaign that can now only possibly yield a repeat of the third-place finish England secured in Canada four years ago. “I can’t say to my players: ‘Unlucky.’ That’s white noise to them, because they wanted to win,” Neville admitted afterwards. “We came here to win and we didn’t do that.”
He did, though, say that he was proud of his players and optimistic that the performances this summer will provide a strong basis for England’s attempt to claim their first major tournament trophy on home soil at Euro 2021. Another victory against European opposition, to add to their strong 3-0 triumph over Norway in their quarter-final, on Saturday would certainly help support that impression.
Sweden will be England’s rivals in Nice after falling to a 0-1 defeat to the Netherlands in their semi-final on Wednesday. It was a tight match in which both sides struggled to create chances in open play. The best opportunities came from set-pieces, with both Sweden, through Nilla Fischer, and the Netherlands having efforts saved onto the post. It went to extra-time, where the Netherlands scored and Sweden were unable to respond.
Sweden therefore fell to their third defeat in the four World Cup semi-finals that they have contested. A repeat of their third-place finish in Germany in 2011 is now all that is available to Peter Gerhardsson and his side. “It’s about the medal,” he said afterwards. “Ending up third of course feels a lot better than ending up fourth. We’ll do everything in our power to try to do that.”
They will certainly not be easy opponents for England. Sweden came into the tournament ranked ninth in the world, but saw off both fifth-ranked Canada and second-ranked Germany en route to the final four. Over the last couple of years, their record against fellow top-1o sides reads: four wins, three draws and four defeats. All three of their knockout-round matches have been decided by a single goal.
Gerhardsson’s side practice a well-organised and conservative approach that relies upon the inspiration of Kosovare Asllani to help create opportunities in attack. She has notched two goals and two assists during this tournament. Stina Blackstenius scored in the victories over Canada and Germany and is another potential threat England should be wary of.
England are likely to find Sweden much tougher opponents than Norway. Sweden are both a better team and one who have shown themselves capable of keeping matches tight and low-scoring, even against superior opposition. England are still the marginal favourites to emerge victorious, but getting there might well prove to be a bit of a slog.
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