Sweden vs Canada: Experts analyse the finalists
• FIFA’s technical experts put the gold medal contenders under the microscope • Sweden’s variety in attack and Canada’s solid midfield diamond in focus • Pascal Zuberbühler gives his perspective on goalkeepers Lindahl and Labbe As an amazing Women’s Olympic Football Tournament full of entertainment and excitement reaches a conclusion, only two teams remain in the race to top the podium.
Ahead of Friday’s historic Tokyo 2020 showdown between Canada and Sweden, FIFA’s technical experts share their thoughts on the gold medal match and highlight some of the protagonists’ attributes that could prove decisive.
April Heinrichs (FIFA Technical Expert)
Fans can expect a positive attacking game with constructive build-up play, progression of possession, and quality chances created in both boxes. I anticipate a wide open game as both teams can sense a special opportunity to win the gold medal for the first time and, because of this, will attack relentlessly.
Sweden appear to have the advantage in the variety of their attacking play. They are capable of switching the point of the attack in midfield from vertical play centrally to creating overloads on the flanks that end with quality crosses to strong finishers in the box like Stina Blackstenius, Sofia Jakobsson, Fridolina Rolfo and Kosovore Asllani. In addition to always being strong on set plays, Sweden also can play quickly in transition along the ground and penetrate the box with organised runs.
Canada, for their part, are calm, confident and patient in possession progression. They too have some excellent attacking players, starting with the international football’s all-time record goalscorer, Christine Sinclair, who is ably supported by the likes of Janine Beckie, Jessie Fleming and Nichelle Prince. With this quality up front, Canada are also dangerous on set plays.
Pascal Zuberbühler (FIFA Goalkeeping Specialist)
In Hedvig Lindahl, Sweden have a very experienced goalkeeper who knows how to play in big games, which could prove crucial in the final. At the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup in France, Lindahl produced a fantastic tournament, helping bring her team to a third-place finish. The 38-year-old reads the game exceptionally and is not only a great shot-stopper but also understands how and when to support her defensive line. Her excellent starting position allows her to intercept any balls played in behind the defence. With the ball at her feet, Lindahl also has the full range of distribution: she can change from slow to fast progression, as well as varying between short passes and long kicks.
The Canada defence also knows how to protect their goal, as their record of just three goals conceded - achieved through a solid collective effort – clearly shows. Stephanie Labbe, their 34-year-old goalkeeper, brings huge experience and provides confidence to her team-mates. She is extremely brave when dealing with high balls or one-v-one situations and is a physically strong goalkeeper who has clearly prepared well for this tournament. She has made many crucial saves during these Olympic Games, including two in the penalty shootout against Brazil in the quarter-finals. We will be interested to see how Labbe deals with the balls that will surely be played in behind the Canadian defence as well as the high balls that Sweden will look to play into the area.
Managing to score past these two goalkeepers in the final could prove a real challenge.
Harry Lowe (FIFA Football Performance Analyst)
Canada’s impressive defensive record in these Olympic Games can be attributed to their compact and disciplined 4-4-2 shape, with a diamond midfield structure out of possession. This shape has made it very difficult for teams in this tournament to progress centrally as we observed in the semi-final against USA. The Canadian forward pair of Prince and Beckie play a key role in disrupting progression at source, funnelling the opponent's build-up play into central areas, while the three-player midfield screen of Fleming, Desiree Scott and Quinn remains compact to prevent central penetration.
Sweden in their 4-2-3-1 system are a team that look to progress vertically and quickly through and over their opponents’ defensive lines, handing key responsibilities to their central players to progress the ball from back to front. Centre-backs Nathalie Bjorn and Amanda Ilestedt and central midfielders Caroline Seger and Filippa Angeldal are tasked with penetrating the opponents’ midfield line. Sweden’s wide players share the responsibility of moving inside to partner a central attacking player between the midfield and defensive lines.
Chris Loxston (FIFA Group Leader Performance Analysis & Insights)
Sweden made a very clear statement in their opening match by beating FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 Winners, USA 3-0. They have been very consistent throughout this tournament, and even when they fell behind against Australia in the group stage they maintained their playing philosophy and eventually came through. Their movement in behind the defensive line has been an impressive and prominent feature of their play. In particular, Sofia Jakobsson’s movement profile has seen runs from out to in, in to out, offside to onside, all followed by rapid movements in behind the opposition defence. The challenging problem for Canada in the final will be that Blackstenius, Rolfo and Asllani also have similar movement profiles. Sweden have also shown a tendency to load the box with several players when in the final third. It is not surprising how many goals and chances have been created from crosses and headers as well as cutbacks. This will undoubtedly be an area Canada will need to deal with in the final. The Canadians have done very well in this tournament by disrupting the opposition in build-up and progression. In the semi-final against USA, relentless direct pressure was applied to any player looking to progress the ball centrally, which often caused a possession turnover and an opportunity for Canada to counter-attack. Bev Priestman’s side are dangerous in these situations as several players transition quickly to support the attack. The combination of Sweden looking to break lines for quick vertical progression and Canada’s unrelenting pressure provides a fascinating area to watch in the final. Canada are another team who have stayed consistent to their playing philosophy and have taken their chances when presented. Priestman, their head coach, has created a well-organised and well-prepared team who approach each match with a very clear game plan.
Elisabeth Loisel (FIFA Technical Expert)
Canada will be the underdogs against a Swedish side that has made a very strong impression since the beginning of this Women’s Olympic Football Tournament. The Canadian team has shown great solidarity and their defence can absorb heavy amounts of pressure without cracking. They are solid in duels, as demonstrated against the USA in the semi-final, and are clinical with their chances, which are often created through vertical and direct counter-attacking. They will be in the Olympic final for the first time and this motivation could be a strong asset for them.
Sweden will be participating in their second Olympic final after their defeat in 2016, and there is no doubt that this time they will aim for gold. Although the Swedes found it more difficult against Australia in the semi-final than they had in beating previous opponents, the potential they demonstrated throughout the competition justifies them as favourites for the title.
They have developed a quality game built from the defence and can alternate attacking play in the axis around Blackstenius, or down the wings, with very good use of width and exploiting the corridors. The latter method is particularly effective down the right side, where the beautiful partnership between Jakobsson and Glas has been really flourishing. Lindahl and her central defence will have to show again in this final all their quality in managing aerial battles, as this is normally one of their key strengths.
It will be interesting to see how the Swedes will grapple with Canada’s direct play, and how the Canadians, with their midfield diamond, will tactically manage Sweden’s game through the corridors.