The last of four matches at this world cup saw me attending a knock out game between Sweden and Canada, two of the wider circle of favourites in this year’s competition.
The atmosphere was a lot livelier in contrast with the previous three matches. There were close to 40000 people in the ground making some noise. Particularly a big group of people clad in yellow and blue who had with them a big drum and who sang, cheered and chanted throughout the 90 minutes of play. The French discovered that their francophone cousins from Canada were worth their support and countered the Swedish ultras with repeated shouts of “Canada!” accompanied by clapping. The contest in the stands went to Sweden, easily.
The one on the pitch was the exact opposite; within fifteen minutes of play Canada had four corners of which nothing dangerous came. Sweden were better sparring partners in this spell as they simply had no grip on the match. It took them almost twenty minutes before they recorded their first couple of noteworthy forays forward. Of course they bore no fruit. Likewise Canada with their good passing and fast movin game had nothing to offer that could be recalled here. The Swedish defense held them at bay and when a ball coincidentally got through it bounced awkwardly or the first touch denied the player any advantage. Thus came the inevitable: the crowd commenced to please themselves in trying to get La Ola going. It took them almost ten minutes before they succeeded, during which Sweden had their first corner of the match. That was it for the first half. During the interval the pitch was watered while both sets of subs tried to do some exercises? Was that necessary? Yes, it is hot, really hot in Paris but preventing the players from light exercises is not ideal one would think, heat or no heat.
The second half began in the opposite manner: this time it was Sweden controlling the ball and planting themselves around the Canadian penalty area. This initial pressure paid off ten minutes into the half. Canada were going forward once but lost the ball, Sweden immediately countered quickly. The curled cross by Kosovar Asllani found Stine Backstenius free on goal. Canada’s keeper Labbé rushed out to deny a shot but Backstenius lobbed it into the empty net. Not even the defender could stop the ball from going in. The goal came when most observers thought that a goal would be really beneficial for the match. And so it proved. Sweden were now more courageous and Canada, too as they had to. The latter were shaken, that much was visible. However, giving in was not in their text book as they went forward looking to get the equaliser. They almost were rewarded when VAR decided that a Swedish defender had played the ball with her hand inside their penalty box. Joy at one side, anger at the other. However, there was still the shot to be taken. A weak one it was, easily saved by the keeper who dived to her right and palmed the ball away for a corner. There was no time for celebration as the Canadians attempted to execute the corner quickly but the Swedes were alert and prevented any danger. They did so for the rest of the match. So much so that one could be forgiven to think there might be a different Swedish team playing. They were more composed, self assured and came forward regularly, only to be let down by their finishing or denied by the Canadian keeper who made two great saves to keep deficit at one goal only. One was a header the other a volley. If those two shots brought nothing but two great saves, the call for a penalty certainly made this game theirs. Albeit, there was an offside infringement before the foul seen only by VAR and therefore the penalty was called off, a free kick given instead. And Canada? What looked so good and promising during the first half, now barely resembled a coherent team. They enjoyed the majority of the possession but could not make it count for them. In the final minutes they poured forward, hoping for another penalty or for one mistake. Neither came their way and Sweden, though not convincing were through to the quarter-final where they will meet the reigning Olympic champion, Germany on Saturday.