Spirited Sweden swoop to win group (2:1)
Until the 68rd minute of this game it looked like FIFA Women's World Cup runners-up Sweden were on their way home after the group stage. However, just as they overturned a 1-0 deficit against Canada in the semifinals at USA 2003 to run out 2-1 winners, coach Marika Domanski-Lyfors' team showed incredible spirit to claim another 2-1 victory. The turnaround was thoroughly deserved, with Sweden creating chance after chance, and sees the Scandinavians qualify as group winners for the quarter-finals where they will meet Australia. Second-placed Nigeria also qualify for the last eight where they face a stern test in world champions Germany.
Nigeria coach Ismaila Mabo kept faith with the same team that overcame Japan 1-0, while Swedish counterpart Marika Domanski-Lyfors made two changes: Jane Törnquist made way for the return of Sara Larsson, while Anna Sjöström, who made a substitute appearance against Japan, replaced Malin Andersson for a place in the starting line-up. Malin Moström took the captain's armband.
Sweden, eager to give a more assertive performance than they had against Japan, made a promising start. Hanna Ljungberg's second minute header after good work from Sjöström was just wide of the mark. Nigeria responded three minutes later when striker Mercy Akide bore down on the Swedish goal, however her 11-yard strike went harmlessly over Caroline Jönsson's goal. A Therese Sjoegran free-kick on seven minutes found Ljungberg taking up another dangerous position, only for the Swede to push the ball wide of the target. Sweden were not having much luck in front of goal, Victoria Svensson's 25-yard free-kick striking the bar with Nigerian keeper Precious Dede soundly beaten (13).
Nigeria refused to lie down: Felicia Eze tried her luck on 19 minutes, but her shot failed to test Swedish number one Jönsson. The Africans' best chance came two minutes later through Efioanwan Ekpo, who failed to make a good contact with the ball from a promising position. Perpetua Nkocha's 20-yard effort minutes later also lacked real conviction. Eventually, however, the Nigerians' endeavours were rewarded: Frida Östberg cleared Perpetua Nkwocha's powerful header from a corner, but Akide was on hand to poke the ball home and give her side the lead (25, 0-1). Sweden retaliated immediately, defender Kristin Bengtsson's free-kick forcing a parried save from Dede (27), who was also alert to a Moström effort four minutes later. Another shot against the bar from Östberg suggested that Lady Luck was not with the Scandinavians (32). Nigeria, on other hand, remained dangerous, Nkwocha's 34th minute shot brushing the top of the crossbar. With Sweden lacking penetration, a problem which blighted them against Japan, Vera Okolo could have doubled her team's advantage if only she had struck the ball cleanly (43).
Marklund makes the breakthrough
Sweden began to dominate after the interval, but still lacked the inspiration and purpose in the final third to put the Africans under serious pressure. Ljungberg wasted a headed chance (48) before substitute Lotta Schelin spurned a further two opportunities. Nigeria, though restricted to sporadic counter-attacks, still looked the more lively and dangerous team. Stella Mbachu could have brought a premature end to Sweden's Olympic hopes on 67 minutes, only to shoot narrowly wide from 2 yards out. And just one minute later Sweden found their way back into the game when Hanna Marklund headed in a Bengtsson corner to level the scores at 1-1 and spark scenes of jubilation among the Swedish contingent (68). Five minutes later, Svensson beat Mbachu on the right flank before delivering an inch-perfect pass to Moström, who made no mistake with the finish (73). The 2-1 final scoreline gave Sweden top berth in the group.
Domanski-Lyfors was delighted with the result: "We played well today and were aggressive from the outset. We tried to vary our play, which we did particularly well in the second half." Ljungberg added: "I'm getting better every game, but I have to be patient." Nigerian coach Mabo is already looking forward: "We will give our best to win the next game. Taking off Mercy Akide was a precautionary measure. I wanted to save her for the quarter-final because she has been struggling with an injury."