It’s déjà vu all over again for the Swedish women’s national soccer team at the World Cup as the Blue and Yellow were put in a group with North Korea and the United States for the third straight tournament.
Group D in the tournament also includes World Cup newcomers Colombia, a team Sweden has never faced. The U.S. and North Korea are two teams Sweden knows almost too well, at least in a World Cup setting.
“The group's very similar to those we had in the past two World Championships, which is a bit boring in itself,” said Sweden head coach Thomas Dennerby. “But it does not matter—North Korea we have beaten both times in the past. We'll try to advance as far as we can.”
Sweden played and beat North Korea in the 2003 and 2007 World Cups. The Blue and Yellow also beat North Korea in a friendly and have outscored the Asian power 4-1 in those three matches.
The United States is a different story. The Americans are the top-ranked team in the world and under Swedish head coach Pia Sundhage, the U.S. won the 2008 Olympic crown. It will be the first time, however, that Sundhage will coach the Americans against her native country in a major tournament. Sweden is currently No. 4 in FIFA’s rankings.
“This is the best thing that could have happened,” Sundhage said. “It’s a tough group and that’s exactly what we need. We’ll have the chance to play against different opponents and we’ll have to adjust our tactics and that’s fun. It will be easy as we go from one game to another to focus on different things because we’re playing against different cultures.”
The U.S. opened the 2003 Women’s World Cup with a 3-1 win against Sweden and then four years later it was a 2-0 victory in Chengdu, China, in the second match of the tournament. For the third meeting, the teams meet in their third and final group match. The teams have met 27 times previously, including three total Women’s World Cup meetings (the U.S. won 3-2 to open the 1991 Women’s World Cup), with the U.S. leading the all-time series 17-3-7.
The Americans, however, stumbled a bit in their qualifiers and needed a playoff win over Italy to grab the last spot in the tournament while Sweden breezed into the finals.
“It will be a fun game, of course,” Dennerby said. “Pia and I are good friends and they’re a good team so it will be cool to meet them. They had a close escape, so they will be ready, which means we have some work to do.”
Sweden team captain Charlotte Rohlin said she doesn’t think the past World Cup results mean too much.
"It depends on your outlook,” she said. “It has been equally between us in recent friendlies. They're a really good team and they will be confident that they can beat us, but we will do anything to win."
Despite losing to the U.S. in each of the last three tournamets, Sweden has always managed to advance to the next round, thanks to its wins over North Korea. Dennerby said his side must continue that dominance over the current No. 6 women’s team in the world.
“I think they become a major competitor, but we have beaten them twice earlier in the World Cup,” he said. “We will be confident when we play them.”
Rohlin agreed with her coach.
“We have met them before and had a few problems, but I think we are a stronger team,” Rohlin said. “We have players who can step in and decide these kinds of matches. It will be tough but I think we should beat them."
Sweden opens its 2011 Women’s World Cup campaign on June 28 against Colombia. It faces North Korea July 2 and plays the U.S. on July 6. The top two teams from each of four groups advance to the quarterfinals.
by Chipp Reid