There may not be a world title to fight for, but with England vs Sweden, the third and fourth place playoff, there’s a lot of pride and a sought-after bronze medal at stake.
Although the honour of calling themselves a World Cup finalist or world champion may have eluded England and Sweden this time, their campaigns, which have proven to be better than 20 other teams in the tournament, are still something to be proud of.
The English always knew the odds were slightly against them when they were drawn against defending champions the United States, but it didn’t stop them from believing in their ability to cause an upset and book their place in their first final.
Unfortunately for them, the dream wouldn’t be realised this year as the Americans showed why they’re the best team in the world and have lifted the trophy three times since 1991. Despite a strong display, that saw them finishing with a better possession percentage, it ended 2-1 in favour of the North Americans in what was a rollercoaster encounter.
Phil Neville goes into the battle for the bronze without his first choice centre back Millie Bright, following her red card late in Tuesday’s semi-final, but that shouldn’t cause him much of a headache as he has Manchester United captain and versatile defender Alex Greenwood to call upon.
Defence will certainly not be Neville’s biggest concern, considering his charges only conceded three goals in the whole competition. The manager will be hoping for more of the brutal attack the Lionesses unleashed in the round of 16 and quarter-final clashes in which they scored three goals against Cameroon and former champions Norway.
Consistency will be expected from star striker Ellen White. She’s been on target for her country in the last four games, scoring five of their nine goals. There’s great incentive for the 30-year-old attacker to add to her tally, as she’s tied with US forward Alex Morgan in the race for the golden boot. Another star performance like those she’s showed in recent games could earn her the coveted accolade.
It may have been in a losing cause but the Manchester City markswoman was pivotal in England’s fierce performance against the USA. The only player who enjoyed a better game and also found herself on the score sheet was Morgan’s strike partner Christine Press. This suggests White could’ve been a lot more effective if the attacking midfield trio of Beth Mead, Nikita Parris and Rachel Daly were at their usual best.
Sweden will come into this game knowing they too carry fire power capable of downing any team, if they can polish their finishing. They stunningly dashed the hopes of Germany in the last eight, with a come-from-behind 2-1 win and also booted 2015 hosts Canada out in the round before that.
For the Scandinavian giants, Stina Blackstenius has been the player who’s carried much of the responsibility in the knockout stages, scoring the goal that knocked out the Canadians and the Germans. She may have been unable to carry that form into the semi-final encounter with the Netherlands, but coach Peter Gerhardsson will be confident the leader of his attack will produce the goods.
Blackstenius will not be able to do much without the creativity of Kosovare Asllani, who starred for the Swedes against the Dutch, keeping the midfield quiet, while threading the odd dangerous ball through for her teammate up front. She, along with Lina Hurtig and Sofia Jakobsson, will be responsible for denying Mead, Parris and Daly from dictating terms but will be looked upon to find the back of the net should the centre-forward struggle to.
Sweden managed just three shots on target from 11 attempts at goal against Holland, a concern Gerhardsson will be hoping doesn’t rear its ugly head on Saturday, given England’s accuracy against the US, where they found the target four times from six shots. Both nations’ preference for the 4-2-3-1 formation is telling of their attacking intent, meaning the respective defenders will have a lot on their plate.
The bronze match comes as no surprise for either side, with the English grabbing it four years ago and the ladies in yellow and blue picking it up in 2011. This meeting promises to be a fiery one between teams with rich histories.