“I can handle these types of games,” Sweden goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl assuredly told FIFA.com after earning a clean sheet – and the subsequent Live Your Goals Player of the Match honour – against USA in the Scandinavians’ second match at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Canada 2015™.
Lindahl, who has travelled to every Women’s World Cup since USA 2003 and occupied the No1 role beginning at China PR 2007, exudes confidence in between the posts for Sweden. With more than 100 caps to her name since her debut in 2002, the 32-year-old is the centrepiece of a vastly experienced Swedish backline that includes the likes of Nilla Fischer, Lina Nilsson and Sara Thunebro.
“Now I feel like I am in control over my emotions,” Lindahl explained, discussing that experience she has under her belt now, compared to when she made her first appearance at the Women’s World Cup some eight years ago, which she says helps her against stronger sides like the Americans. “I don’t feel so stressed in this environment.
“By having a calm mind I give myself the chance to act the way that I want to, instead of feeling stressed and tense, which makes you act differently.”
After a wild 3-3 draw with a speedy and dangerous Nigeria side in Sweden’s opening match at Canada 2015, Lindahl and Co maintained a far-tighter backline against the Stars and Stripes, which kept talents such as Abby Wambach, Megan Rapinoe and Sydney Leroux safely at bay.
The goalless draw has left Pia Sundhage’s side in a slightly precarious position going into Tuesday’s final group stage game against Australia. Currently third in Group D, Sweden are on the outside looking in for a spot in the knockout stages. While the upcoming match against the Matildas is not strictly a must-win for Sweden, anything less than three points on Tuesday will require other results to go in the Swedes’ favour if they are to reach the Round of 16.
Defensive duties the priority
Despite most of the pre-tournament discussion around Sweden focusing on their attacking threats – Lotta Schelin leading an experienced trio including Sofia Jakobsson and Kosovare Asllani – Lindahl believes the key to Sweden’s success to advancing is a strong defence.
“You have to build from the defence and add then a really strong attacking game – I feel, of course, as a goalkeeper!” she said. “But I think a lot of people agree that with a good defensive team you can progress quite far in a tournament like this.
“We know what we can do, but we haven’t shown it too many times in these big games. We’ve done it a few times before, but coming into the World Cup we haven’t really showed a great defence; we’ve let in three goals in several games.”
After keeping a clean sheet against the Americans, though, Lindahl's confidence is soaring. “(Against USA) I felt like I could really help the team,” Lindahl said.
“I know I took control over a lot of the defensive set-pieces, organising and making sure we were in control of everything that went inside our penalty area. I feel like it’s now easy for me to take a natural leadership position in there.
“We used different types of tactics. We said we would kill the space behind much earlier than we did against Nigeria. By doing that we stayed more compact. It’s easier to play a good defensive game when you have a compact team.”
And with Tuesday’s final test looming on the horizon, Lindahl knows now is the time for Sweden to keep their tight backline in tact in order to take three points from Australia.
Before hopping on the bus to head back to her hotel, Lindahl – proudly carrying her Live Your Goals Player of the Match award – said with a smile: “It’s good to get this feeling going now in the team. We can build on this.”