Swedes curse slow start
© AFP

The consensus in the Sweden camp about their one-all draw with Nigeria is virtually unanimous. "It was definitely two points lost for us," Captain Victoria Svensson told FIFA.com from the team hotel in Chengdu. "For sure I think we should have won the game, but we're still alive and the group is very open."

With Nigeria, USA, Sweden and Korea DPR all level on one point apiece, Group B - roundly considered the toughest at these finals - is nothing if not gaping. Even still, Hanna Ljungberg, twice player of the year in Sweden, is in complete agreement with her strike partner about what happened against the African champions on Tuesday.

"We were the better team on the day," the Umea star said. "We created chance after chance in the first half and hit the crossbar twice, but we didn't take our oppurtunities and at this level you will always be punished for that. The Nigerians are a good team but we didn't come close to showing what we're capable of."

Conceding a cheap goal with eight minutes to go is something that the Swedish strike duo knows they simply cannot afford to do. "It was a childish mistake and it's something we know we have to avoid. We played well enough to earn all three points, but in the end we gave away two of them," added the straight-talking Svensson, whose goal on 50 minutes, created by the industry of Frida Ostberg, looked enough to win the contest.

Another annoying aspect of the draw was that it maintained the Swedes' unwanted record of never having won an opening game at five straight FIFA Women's World Cups and three Women's Olympic Football Tournaments. "I don't think it's a curse exactly," Ljungberg said. "But it was definitely a trend we were hoping to break against Nigeria."

USA date
Up next for the slow-starting Swedes is a clash with two-times world champions USA, who, by their own admission, also failed to live up to expectations in their 2-2 draw with Korea DPR. When the two sides met in the group stages of the last women's finals, the Americans won 3-1 yet the Scandinavians will be heartened by a statistic as impressive as their opening-match curse is demoralising: they have won all of their second group-stage matches at their four previous FIFA Women's World Cups.

"The USA are always a tough team," said Svensson, top scorer for the Swedes when they reached the final of USA 2003. "But this time they are in the unfamiliar position of not winning their first match and, frankly, this is something we are quite used to. Also, I have seen them play better and we are good at bouncing back."

The Swedes also see a shift in the Americans' style as something that can work in their favour. "Six or seven years ago with Mia Hamm in the team the Americans played with the ball on the pitch a lot more, but now they mostly look to hit long balls up to Abby Wambach," said Ljungberg, who is playing alongside Svensson in her third world finals. "This is a change in style that suits us Swedes very well."

"We are confident we can win this one," Svensson concluded. With a perfect record in the middle match of the group stage, a righteous anger about a sluggish start and a potentially vulnerable USA in wait, Friday may well see the Sweden duo smiling again.