Ah, Sweden -- the home of Mats Sundin, of delicious meatballs that go fantastically with a lingonberry preserve, of put-it-together-yourself furniture, and a pretty decent women's national footy team while we're at it. And to close out our Olympic Group F campaign, they will be Canada's enemy-du-jour.
The Swedes, like, the Canadians are one of the pioneers of the women's game, being the first official European champions of women's footy in 1984 -- since then, they haven't quite reached the top (they did finish as runners-up to Germany in the 2003 World Cup, the same year Canada finished fourth and some 20 year old kid scored 3 goals), but they have remained a powerhouse nevertheless, producing players through a league that some of our players currently play in.
And unlike their mens' teams, the Swedish ladies are much more well known across the world. If you were a keen watcher of the WPS before it collapsed, you will know that during one All-Star Game, they invited 2-time European club champion Umea IK to play, a testament of sorts to the Damallsvenskan's strength and notoriety.
The Swedes are very strong on the ball; and defensively suffocating. That group will be led by Sara Thunebro (93 caps), who plies her trade in Germany at another powerhouse club, 1. FFC Frankfurt -- during their match against Japan, the back line were almost airtight, restricting the potent Japanese midfield. Look for this line to have a bead on Christine Sinclair, and potentially on Melissa Tancredi as well. It will take some excellent midfield work from Canada to break through that Swedish wall.
In the midfield, the Swedes will be relying on Lisa Dahlkvist (56 caps) and their captain Nilla Fischer (90 caps), who will be trying to control the play there. Canada will have to do well to clog up that area, and have to win the ball duels to keep Dahlkvist and Fischer from doing their jobs. The Swedish mid was more than a match for the Japanese, so that should be a point of concern right there. Another name to be on the lookout for will be Caroline Seger, a former teammate of Sinclair's at the Western New York Flash -- she will be another to keep an eye on.
On the forwards side, there is one name to be wary of, and she is Lotta Schelin. With 107 caps, she is the elder stateswoman of the team, and will be asked to provide goals for this Swedish side; during their match with South Africa she didn't disappoint, delivering two goals. She wasn't able to break through the defensive fortress that is the Japanese back four, but with Canada's defence in the injury riddled state that it is in -- she could prove to be too hot to handle.
But what could be the most incredible of all facts about this Swedish team is how inclusive it is: this team has not one, not two, but THREE openly lesbian players: Dahlkvist, goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl and attacking midfielder Jessica Landstrom. So to those of you still out there who think an LGBT teammate is a distraction, here's your proof that a world leading team can be inclusive.
So what are the keys to the game? Canada for one MUST NOT give away the ball easily. Passing must be confident, and on target. The experienced Swedish midfield will pounce on any mistakes and giveaways, and Schelin will not be hesitant to test LeBlanc when given the opportunity. Equal distribution of the ball from a strong midfield to the forwards (and not solely relying on Sinclair) will be key, and this is where Rhian Wilkinson must shine -- she and the Canadian midfield must not be afraid to smash through the backline, like she did with Yukari Kinga two games ago.
Starving the midfield of possession, and denying Schelin shooting lanes while keeping Sinclair and Tancredi (and potentially Timko) busy with shots at Lindahl, will be the key. A win here will almost guarantee a more favourable opponent for the first round of the knockout stages; lose and the Canadians will be scoreboard-watching to see who they will be facing. It's a simple goal, now it's time to see if the Canadians can finally pull it all together.