July 10, 2011

Sweden Gains Semifinals with 3-1 Win over Matildas

Sweden scored two early goals and cruised to a 3-1 victory over Australia on Sunday. And it's fair to say that they were very opportunistic, taking advantage of every opening that their opponent gave them.

Miscues in the back once again cost Australia, a recurring theme over the past two weeks. Lotta Schelin pounced on one such opportunity and finally got her first goal of this World Cup.

Thomas Dennerby went with nearly the same eleven as the last match, except for the returning Caroline Seger who was back in the lineup after her suspension for yellow card accumulation. Tom Sermanni elected to move Caitlin Foord into a midfield position and inserted Ellyse Perry at right back.

Australia nearly handed Sweden a goal in the opening minutes. They played the ball back from the midfield to the back line with Kim Carroll getting there first. Carroll meekly hit the ball back toward Melissa Barbieri in goal, but didn't get anything on the pass and Lotta Schelin intercepted, but her first touch was a bit heavy and Barbieri came sliding out to cover it up.

Australia had their first chance with a Perry cross from the right side being sent into the box, with Charlotte Rohlin redirecting the ball wide with a header in the 7th minute.

Sweden opened the scoring in the 10th minute. Lotta Schelin beat Perry around the left side and dribbled toward the box along the endline. She sent a cross back toward the center, where veteran Therese Sjogran was waiting unmarked. Sjogran hit her 12 yard shot low inside the left post. Barbieri dived and might have gotten a hand on it, but it got through and Sweden were on top 1-0.

Just six minutes later, it was Sjogran in possession on the left wing. She cut back on Perry and hit a right-footed cross to a totally unmarked Lisa Dahlqvist at the six yard box, centered perfectly in front of the goal. Dahlkvist put her uncontested header into the right side of the net and Australia was down 2-0 just 16 minutes into the match.

Schelin almost had her first goal in the 26th minute, but her drive from a steep angle on the left side went high and wide to the right.

Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl made an adventure of a few plays today. In the 38th minute, Collette McCallum sent in a free kick from 35 yards that Lindahl appeared to misjudge, running up as the ball sailed over her head...and luckily for her, just wide of the right post.

But Perry, who had been somewhat victimized earlier in the match, gave the Matildas life in the 40th minute. McCallum played a short corner from the right side to Perry, who touched the ball toward the corner of the penalty area. Her left-footed shot from 22 yards couldn't have been more perfectly placed into the upper left corner of the goal, beating Lindahl and bringing Australia to within one. The halftime score was Sweden 2, Australia 1.

The Aussies looked dangerous to start the second half, as they tried to target the Swedish right side defense. However, a couple of half chances didn't quite come to fruitition and they were unable to tie the match.

Australia gift-wrapped a goal for the Swedes in the 52nd minute and once again, it was a defensive miscue that led to it. Carroll had possession near the center line and under some pressure, elected to play the ball back, apparently to Barbieri, although that is somewhat unclear. As it turned out, Carroll's pass hit Schelin perfectly in stride and she walked in alone on Barbieri. Schelin touched the ball to the right of Barbieri, while she went to the left. The two met behind the Australian keeper and it was just a matter of touching it into the goal. Schelin finally had her goal and Sweden had a safe two goal lead once again.

Tom Sermanni used his first two subs in the 58th minute, sending in Tameka Butt and Clare Polkinghorne for Perry and Emily Van Egmond.

Australia certainly did not give up and probably created more chances than Sweden in the last 45 minutes, but they just couldn't get back in the match. Butt, made her presence known in the 63rd minute, crossing the ball to the back post to Kyah Simon, but the striker put her header wide of the left post.

Lindahl once again made things interesting in the 66th minute as Lisa De Vanna broke into the left side of the penalty area. She tried to slide out, but the ball eluded her and De Vanna was able to get off an unmolested cross from the left side. Unfortunately for her, nobody was making a run to the goal and the ball harmlessly flew through to the other side and was cleared.

Sweden made their first change in the 67th minute sending in Nilla Fischer, who had had such a strong game against the US a few days ago, to replace Linda Forsberg.

The teams traded chances over the next 15 minutes. A Heather Garriock shot was partially blocked going right into the hands of Lindahl in the 71st minute. Later, Tameka Butt hit a blast from distance, with Lindahl tipping the ball wide just to be safe.

Meanwhile, Sweden had opportunities as well. Josefine Oqvist had back-to-back chances in the 78th minute, with her first shot being blocked by Barbieri and then her rebound shot was blocked by Servet Uzunlar. A minute later, Caroline Seger hit a shot from the right corner, which forced Barbieri to make a leaping save at the near post. She nearly lost her balance and reached backwards, holding the ball even with the goal line before bracing herself against the post and not allowing the ball to cross.

Sweden was able to play through the last few minutes without much pressure and they held on for the 3-1 victory, which by quarterfinal standards in this World Cup, was relatively easy. They have done a very good job of taking advantage of their opponents' mistakes in the last couple of games. Sweden appears to be on a roll right now and will now face Japan on Wednesday in the semifinals in what should be a very good matchup.

As for the Matildas, they must be given a lot of credit for a good run in this tournament. They are one of the younger squads at this World Cup and as they gain more experience and if they can address their defensive problems, should be a force to contend with in the future.