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Day 5: Slipping through their fingers
Oh Sweden. A team who on paper should be one of the teams to beat this month, but repeatedly find themselves failing to make good on the advantage they so clearly have. Sweden opened Group C with a 1-1 draw against a Netherlands team who felt like, in the first half at least, they should have been there for the taking.
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This match had a weird tone to it. Already pegged as being the decider for who tops the group, events earlier in the day had made it both more and less essential. Switzerland had gone 2-0 up against Portugal in the opening five minutes but eventually drew 2-2. If Switzerland had won, and the Netherlands had lost, the group would have felt very open. As it was, Sweden and the Netherlands went into the match knowing that barring any shocking mishaps in their remaining group games, they both had a very good chance of progressing.
Sweden started off much the stronger side with early injuries to Sari van Veendendaal and Aniek Nouwen only bolstering their advantage. When Nouwen went off, Sweden were 1-0 up courtesy of a controlled Jonna Andersson finish that owed a lot to Kosovare Asllani’s skill. Lina Hurtig’s hold up play and skill had been exceptional whilst Fridolina Rolfo caused problems popping up everywhere. Yet Sweden were not able to really force the issue and it felt rather inevitable when Jill Roord equalised for The Netherlands in the second half.
It all felt like a situation we have seen Sweden in before. Dominant and controlled throughout the game but with no ability to force the issue. The Olympic final and semi-final both saw Sweden only score once and be forced to deal with a nervy match at the semi-final stage and eventually lose on penalties for the final.
Take nothing away from The Netherlands though. The atmosphere of their fans seemed to galvanise them and some judicious attacking switches from Mark Parsons at half-time made them much more dangerous going forward. The Netherlands are stacked with creative attackers who predominantly play centrally but in the first half it left them very narrow with Dominique Janssen and Lynn Wilms reluctant to push themselves higher up the pitch. In the second-half, Jill Roord and Danielle van de Donk switched so that Roord was in the number 10 role. Vivianne Miedema pulled out wider too, stopping the central areas from being as congested.
Now Sweden and the Netherlands look like they will be battling it out to boost their goal difference in their remaining games against Switzerland and Portugal. Given Sweden’s reticence in front of goal, you have to assume that the Netherlands would feel they have a good chance of topping the group, and avoiding the potential quarter-final meeting with France.