After a silver medal in 2003 and a bronze in 2011, the Swedish women’s national soccer team has its eyes on the gold at the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup, but the competition may be a lot less friendly than expected.

USA vs. Sweden June 12! Go to TV schedule for FIFA Women's World Cup 2015 for a full TV schedule on Fox Sports.


Sweden is among a group with gold-medal contenders USA, African power Nigeria and Australia in what many are calling the “group of death” at Canada 2015. The blue and yellow breezed through the qualifiers, winning all 10 of its matches while conceding just one goal, but the 10-0 record belied several major faults on the team, the biggest of which was scoring. Sweden managed just 32 goals in its 10 matches and was the lowest scoring European group winner in the qualifiers.
Head coach Pia Sundhage, who won Olympic gold and World Cup silver while coaching the United States, has made a series of changes, placing great emphasis on the central spine of the team with a more possession-based approach. "It has been a process of ups and downs," the veteran coach admitted, "but the players have accepted the system and we'll only keep improving from here."
The key to the tactical change, Sundhage said, has been "to get the most out of Caroline Seger," the influential Paris Saint-Germain midfielder. The 33-year-old player is one of five left from the team that finished second in 2003, and while she has shined as a top female midfielder, she has yet to make the type of mark internationally many expected.
Seger is one of a number of experienced, though aging, veteran players Sundhage will look to for leadership and scoring in Canada. All-time leading Swedish scorer Lotta Schelin, who also plays club football in France, is playing in her third and likely last World Cup. Schelin, 31, has 80 career international goals in 150 matches and is the player the Swedes look to when they need a goal. Nila Fischer (31), Charlotte Rhodin (35) and Sara Thunebro (36) will anchor a defense that features Helvig Lindahl in goal. Both Rhodin and Thunebro picked up injuries going into the tournament and Sundhage will likely use Elin Rubensson and Lina Nilsson as replacements. Both are under 30.
In the midfield, Seger will partner with 38-year-old Therese Sjogran. The FC Rosengard captain enjoyed a renaissance last year in the Damallsvenskan, but at 38 and with 210 internationals under her belt, there are real concerns as to just how much she will be able to contribute. Lisa Dahlkvist, 28, who has 96 caps, and a healthy Kosovare Asllani, who now plays with Seger at PSG, give the Swedes a pair of scoring options.
Sweden’s biggest issue could be its depth. The team lacks a true goal-scorer who can enter a match as a substitute and turn a game around. Sweden’s bench also lacks experience, with 10 players on the roster who have played fewer than 25 matches. The intangible for Sweden is, of course, their coach. As a two-time Olympic gold-winner and former FIFA World Coach of the Year for Women's Football, Sundhage is one of the most respected voices in the female game and is a popular leader of a team she represented 146 times during her playing career. Sundhage has a proven ability at ringing every drop of talent out of her players, but she can also be somewhat obstinate in her play calling and formations.

Vying for the title
As for the rest of the field, Germany is the clear favorite to regain the title it last held in 2007. Japan scored a surprise win over the U.S. in 2011, but the Japanese, while still strong, are not likely to repeat as world champions. The United States, ranked second in the world, is another favorite. Sweden is currently ranked fifth in the world, behind Japan and France. The French, in fact, could be the surprise team of the tournament.
Sweden’s group features an Australian side currently ranked 10th in the world. Australia has an average age of just 23 but has picked 13 members of the squad that reached the quarter-finals at Germany 2011, including Hyundai Young Player Award winner Caitlin Foord and veteran goalkeeper Melissa Hudson (nee Barbieri), not to mention Asian player of the year Katrina Gorry. Team USA, meanwhile, is a powerhouse of experience and talent — Christie Rampone, 40, for example, sets out on her fifth World Cup and is the sole survivor from her team's triumph in 1999. It is Abby Wambach, though, who holds her nation's record for individual World Cup games, having rattled in 13 goals in her 18 matches — one more encounter than Rampone, while USA's experienced squad also features the likes of Shannon Boxx (15 games), Carli Lloyd (11), Heather O'Reilly (11) and Hope Solo (10).
Rounding out Group D is Nigeria, and the African power has its own core of experienced players whom the Swedes know well as Perpetua Nkwocha who plays for Umea. A four-time African player of the year, the 39-year-old will figure alongside Asisat Oshoala, who picked up the continental award for the first time in 2014.
Sweden has more than enough talent to survive the group stage, but the question will be whether its aging team has the depth needed to reach the medal round. They will likely place second to the United States in the group stage, although in the expanded field of 24 teams, 16 will advance from the opening round to the Round of 16, so a strong third-place showing could be enough to send Sweden through. Once in the Round of 16, the tournament becomes single knock-out and Sweden will want to finish second to avoid a possible early showdown with Germany. Sweden has never defeated Germany in a major tournament.
Sweden opens its campaign June 8 against Nigeria before meeting the United States June 13 and finishing group play against Australia June 17. All matches will be shown live on U.S. TV by Fox Sports. For a complete listing, go to TV schedule for FIFA Women's World Cup 2015

By Chipp Reid