- Sweden’s bronze medal heroics prompt FIFA Ranking surge
- France 2019 podium finishers up to sixth
- Success built on foundation of experience and cool heads
Footballing summers to remember are becoming a bit of a trend in Sweden. Having seen their men’s national team reach the 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ quarter-finals, their women went even better clinching bronze at the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™.
While not only a performance that drew plaudits for their resilience throughout the tournament, it kept up their impressive average of a medal at every other World Cup. It’s a result that saw them climb back to their joint-highest point in the FIFA/Coca-Cola Women’s Ranking since tumbling out in the Round of 16 at Canada 2015, now sat in sixth.
It was a result that exceeded many expectations after mixed feelings at the outset. Arriving as Olympic silver-medallists was counter-balanced by a quarter-final exit at the 2017 UEFA Women's Championship and their status as the ninth-ranked side in France.
An experienced focus ultimately counted for a great deal in seeing them onto the podium. While impressing technically, with the likes of Sofia Jakobsson and Kosovare Asllani providing moments of incision and inventiveness across the front line, their solid core of level-headed worldliness steered them through some of the tougher storms.
All four of their knockout encounters were separated by a single goal, while only missing out on the final in extra time, and it’s no surprise that an experienced core of Hedvig Lindahl, Linda Sembrant, Caroline Seger and Nilla Fischer was at the heart of their solidity. With a haul of 564 caps between them, the Swedish ship rarely rocked hard amid the World Cup waves.
The desire for calm was echoed from the sidelines, as coach Peter Gerhardsson – who would go on to make the shortlist for The Best FIFA Women’s Coach – explained to FIFA.com. “For me, a coach’s job is to be clear and calm and make their players understand the things that will make the team play better.
“Getting angry with players might have been common in the past, especially in men’s sport, but that old way - the Alex Ferguson ‘hairdryer’ - is old-fashioned now, I think. If you’re so frustrated as a coach that you can’t communicate calmly to your players at half-time, I would say it’s better to stay out of the dressing room completely.”
It’s an approach that they needed to dust off on Tuesday, when they got back into the saddle to kick off their next journey - qualifying for the 2021 UEFA Women’s Championship. A goal down in Latvia, they had to slog to turn things around and get rolling towards a 4-1 win. Asllani’s relentless dead balls, alongside a Seger spot-kick, getting the job done.
But before the potential fruits of that expedition can be enjoyed, a trip to Tokyo needs to be enjoyed as they look to go one better this time around at the Women’s Olympic Football Tournament. Despite the likes of Lindahl (36), Fischer (35) and Seger (34), all being in the autumn of their careers, the drive for at least one final stand remains.
“The wish and the dream are there,” Seger admitted to Aftonbladet. “This is all I know. As long as I have the motivation, I feel that everything else will solve itself.”
And with all eyes focused on moving onwards and upwards, it wouldn’t surprise Gerhardsson to see Seger still at the heart of his team in 11 months with her current levels of enthusiasm for the cause. “She is more like a 20-year-old than how old she is now!"