writes Nordstjernan sports editor. We should all be proud of the bronze but realize the Swedish side that finished third at the 2011 Women's World Cup doesn't measure up to the team that finished second in 2003.
Ever since they arrived in Germany, Sweden head coach Thomas Dennerby called his Women’s World Cup team the nation's “best team ever.”
Dennerby waxed lyrical about the technical ability of his team, its solid defense, swarming midfield and potent offense. He said the 2011 team was far and away better than the 2003 side that finished second to Germany, mostly because the 2011 team was one composed completely of professional players.
He was right about that, at least. The 2011 team was professional, with players from leagues in Sweden, France, Germany and the U.S. on the roster. Unlike men’s soccer, however, playing overseas doesn’t necessarily mean the quality is any better.
Quite frankly, the 2003 team, with Hanna Ljungberg, Victoria Svensson, Malin Moström, Anna Sjöström, Carolina Westberg and Caroline Jonsson could run rings around the 2011 side with Lotta Schelin, Caroline Seger, Therese Sjögran, Lisa Dahlkvist, Charlotte Rohlin and Hedvig Lindahl.
It isn’t simply a matter of sheer talent—which the ’03 side had in buckets. The 2011 team simply didn’t look like a team. Sure, when someone scored, the players would gather and do their “French” dance, but only Josefine Öqvist, one of five players who also played on the 2003 team, showed the same fire the silver-medal winning team possessed.
Fire, however, is an intangible. It was clearly obvious that Sweden lacked several key ingredients. So key, that Dennerby—for all his bluster—should, hmm, probably lose his job:
Goalkeeping: For some reason, Thomas Dennerby insists on playing Hedvig Lindahl. That’s not to say the Kristianstad net minder isn’t good, it’s just that better goalkeepers were available. Lindahl’s understudy at the tournament was Kristin Hammarström, twin sister of defender/midfielder Maria. Kristin went to Germany as the top-ranked goalkeeper in Sweden yet wasn’t even a blip on Dennerby’s roster radar. More surprising is Dennerby's refusal to make peace with former Sweden international Caroline Jönsson. After a year playing in the U.S. for Chicago, Jönsson returned to Sweden and joined Umeå IK. She and Dennerby never really saw eye to eye, and when Jönsson decided to take a year off from the national team so she could heal from knee and back injuries, Dennerby simply cut her from the national team program. That was a mistake. Jönsson’s poise and experience could have been key factors in Sweden’s loss to Japan in the semis, a match in which Lindahl made several major gaffes.
Midfield: Caroline Seger plays alongside Brazilian superstar Marta for Western New York in the U.S.-based Women’s Professional Soccer league. Therese Sjögran also plays in the U.S. with Sky Blue FC in New Jersey. It’s easy to think that together they should form a lethal tandem. They don’t. Sjögran likes to hold her position while Seger tends to wander. Both are difficult given the way Dennerby has his team play. Lisa Dahlkvist was certainly a revelation as she scored three goals, but Dahlkvist remains a defensive midfielder. Dennerby never really used Malmö midfielder Nilla Fischer except as a substitute, despite the fact Fischer has arguably the hardest shot on the team and is an attacking midfielder who can also defend.
Attack: It seemed like everything Sweden did offensively had to go through Lotta Schelin, or else. Whether it was an order from Dennerby or simply an overdependence Dennerby failed to fix, the go-to-Lotta mentality hurt Sweden more than it helped. Josefine Öqvist, despite her skill and fire, was a poor partner because she and Schelin are copies—both are target players. Why Dennerby never used Edlund is a mystery. Edlund is a slashing, fast forward who spent a year in WPS before returning to Sweden. Her speed and ability to dart in on defenses could have added a dimension to the Swedish attack.
Coaching: Former head coach Marika Domanski-Lyfors came under criticism from every quarter for failing to win a major championship when she had players such as Hanna Ljungberg, Malin Moström and Jane Törnqvist on her roster. Dennerby has so far escaped criticism for his coaching at the World Cup, mostly because Sweden beat the U.S. in group play and won a bronze medal. Once the euphoria wears off, Dennerby should come under scrutiny for the plodding method in which his team played. Rather than stretching the field, which the Japanese did so well in their semifinal win against the Swedes, Dennerby kept his team focused on very narrow play. It made it easier to get the ball to Schelin but it also made it very easy to defend against the Swedes. Dennerby's biggest mistake came before the Japan semifinal when he made a last minute change to his tactics, playing a 4-5-1 instead of a 4-4-2. Schelin looked completely lost as the lone striker while Öqvist never really succeeded as a withdrawn center forward.
In the end, these errors cost Sweden a shot at the gold medal and its first football world champions since Nils Liedholm, Gunnar Gren and Gunnar Nordahl led Sweden to the gold medal at the 1948 Olympics.
The Swedish World Cup team was good, very, very good, but it wasn’t the best ever. That title, in Swedish women’s soccer, rightfully belongs to the 2003 team.
By Chipp Reid
Hedvig Lindahl juggles the ball as she makes a save against Japan. Lindahl was the weak link in the Swedish defense. Bildbyrån photo