Perhaps we should have seen Sweden’s quarter-final victory over four-time gold medallists USA coming. Back on 21 July in Kalmar, a couple of weeks before the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Rio 2016 started, Sweden defeated Japan 3-0. The result caused the world of football to raise its collective eyebrow for a moment, but then we moved on.
Against the USA on Friday in Brasilia, Sweden were marching to the same beat, and according to the players and coach Pia Sundhage, they knew they had this in them.
"We knew that if we can stay compact, it’s hard to beat us," Sweden goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl told FIFA.com. "It’s hard to get these clear chances. We bought into that earlier."
Speaking at the Estadio Nacional just moments after pulling off one of the major shocks in senior women’s football tournament history, Lindahl was casting her mind back to that afternoon in Kalmar against Japan when Sweden were in sync, playing as one.
"That’s when we felt like ‘Wow, they had a really hard time,'" Lindahl said. "Our confidence grew a lot."
Sundhage shows tactical nous
Many times headlines and columns focus attention on Sundhage’s past coaching USA and her familiarity with the team. Indeed there are players on the team Sweden beat on Friday that Sundhage coached, but there are also many changes since she left the helm at the current gold medal holders. More important than her past, she showed tactical acumen in the historic win.
We’re a big, big team. We’re not only 11 players.
"All the players are on the same page," Sundhage said after the win. "We tried to do our best and be patient and I’m really proud of the team. I knew we had a lot of fighting spirit. The way they worked together is something we talked about quite a bit. We don’t have a star, we have a team. I’m really proud of the fact we stepped up a little more, especially our mentally in the penalty kicks. I’m not a big fan of history. We can talk about history later on. Right now what I’m going to pick up is the tactics."
"Tactically, [Sundhage] had a perfect plan," Sweden captain Caroline Seger told FIFA.com. "We had to put our defence lower and it worked out perfectly. It maybe looks boring for some, but at the end of the day, we want to win. We are playing compact and everyone fights for every single ball. We are so close to each other that if one misses the ball, the next is there. I think that’s why [USA] got stressed. They probably were frustrated so we did it perfectly today."
Alternates playing their part
Each Olympic football team is allowed four alternate players in case of injury to a member of the squad. Seger revealed details of how even the alternates on Blagult’s squad played their part in the build-up to the USA quarter-final.
"We always have a video before games," Seger explained. "It’s always a big surprise because we never know what’s coming. This time the alternates made a video for us.
"The premise was we’re playing but they are not," the skipper said with a wide smile. ”So it was about what the alternates and what they are doing when we’re playing. For example, while we are playing, they are getting a tan by the pool!"
As humorous as the video was, it also points to the togetherness existing within this team.
"They’re always here," Seger concluded. "We’re a big, big team. We’re not only 11 players. If you feel like a big team, I think you can do a lot together. We’re not only 11 players, we’re 22."