Well, I had 2-1 France as the final score in this game, and I’ll take full credit for it, but I didn’t exactly expect it to go down like this. In the end, Sweden had France exactly where they wanted them: down a goal, questioning themselves in the back, they even had a chance or two to go 2-0 up. But – before halftime no less – they had imploded twice on set pieces, and never really recovered. In a way it’s just Sweden being Sweden of late, good enough to compete with the best, but just not quite good enough to topple them. Meanwhile, for France, respect or no respect, here they are again in a major tournament semifinal with a chance to really announce their presence on the world scene:
1) It’s that goalkeeping again
We talk about tactics and personnel and strategy, but sometimes things can be simpler than they look, which is why Hope Solo – despite everything else she does – is so important to the United States. When a team has a very good goalkeeper behind them, the defense tends to play more confident and more composed. I’m sure Hedvig Lindahl is a fine keeper, but the corner kick that resulted in the tying goal was hit right at her, and she just didn’t deal with it. Not too much she could have done about the second goal. Meanwhile, at the other end, Sarah Bouhaddi has had her shaky moments in this tournament, but the biggest moment in the game was clearly her 71st minute robbery of Nilla Fischer. Might be the save of the tournament, and she was much more confident down the stretch. If that continues against Japan, it gives them a much better shot, especially in the close game that is inevitable.
2) Thomas Dennerby made some changes. Didn’t work.
He tried to move Caroline Seger closer to Lotta Schelin to give her more support, but he just couldn’t get her enough of the ball in dangerous area. Sadly, I think she’s a lot better than she showed at this tournament, and it’s mostly not her fault. That’s one of the problems with playing a 4-2-3-1: if your forward gets isolated, they often don’t have a heck of a lot of help. Fischer was obviously dangerous, and for most of the game Sweden actually defended pretty well, they just gave up two set piece goals and were made to pay the price. Don’t mean to oversimplify, but that’s it.
3) Meanwhile, I didn’t like Bruno Bini’s choices. Didn’t matter.
Leaving Camile Abily on the bench? Don’t think it worked. Giving Elodie Thomis the start? Not so sure that worked, either (although Eugenie Le Sommer seems to have zero confidence right now). But when you get goals from your two center backs on set pieces, you survive and advance. The France-Japan matchup is very, very tough to call.
Commercials, NBC, really?
This was an ongoing theme throughout the day, and I’m going to hope it was a decision made by a higher-up and will be gone for the semifinals and finals, but we completely missed the biggest play in the game, which was Bouhaddi’s save on Fischer. Just ridiculous.
Sweden led in shots on goal 6-5 and possession was exactly even 50-50. Small margins.