By Alistair Hendrie
Sweden are through to the women's World Cup semi-finals, banishing the German ghost in a manner so fearless it bordered on cavalier. Sweden hadn’t overcome Germany at a major tournament since 1995 and Sweden’s Chelsea defender Magdelena Eriksson, speaking before the match, said her country were determined to gain revenge for defeats in the 2003 final and the 2015 round of 16. Peter Gerhardsson’s charges advanced with a direct approach this time around, but it wasn’t without peril.
Before Sofia Jakobsson’s classy finish and Stina Blackstenius’s poached winner, Lina Magull put the Germans ahead, contorting her body to score a sumptuous half-volley. The Germans dominated a breathless period of added time too, Sara Däbritz and Marina Hegering both almost levelling. The Swedish goalkeeper, Hedvig Lindahl – who was nearly dispossessed during a madcap dribble in the first half – typified the mayhem and was all at sea when the Germany substitute, Lena Oberdorf, headed wide from close-range on 87 minutes.
That said, Swedish were decent value for their success and were never likely to go through without a hiccup here or there. Jakobsson evaded a slack German back-line, latching onto early long balls. Kosovare Asllani, dropping into midfield, hustled back loose passes. Blackstenius, who could have scored two or three, dribbled with intent around the “D” and exacerbated the chaos in Germany’s rear-guard.
But it was Sweden who were the slowest to start. Magull shot straight at Lindahl, Svenja Huth threaded in through-balls and Lindahl cleared from danger when roaming into a disaster of her own making. Magull’s opener was sublime. Cushioning Däbritz’s pass by the penalty spot, the Bayern Munich midfielder swiped the ball out of the air with an athletic half-volley. Her set-up and conversion, in one movement, were as quick as a flash. A goal of the tournament contender, for sure.
Would Swedish heads drop, given that only two countries had beaten them more times than Germany? Would Sweden lose all hope against opponents who hadn’t conceded a goal in this World Cup? Not so. The Blagult equalised within six minutes, Jakobsson escaping a creaky defensive line to fire across Almuth Schult. The 29-year-old took her goal skilfully but Die Nationalelf allowed a single hoof to travel over 60 yards and bounce before it reached Jakobsson.
From there, for the rest of the opening 45 minutes, Sweden flourished. Aslanni robbed Carolin Simon in the final third. Blackstenius almost profited from Caroline Seger’s punt over the top. Every time Sweden lofted a ball high into the early evening Rennes air, Germany’s minds scrambled and their shape crumbled. Schult sprinted off her line in panic to clear another ball forward.
Germany needed half time. Such was their luck, straight after the restart, Blackstenius’s rebound put them behind after Schult parried Fridolina Rolfö’s downward header. It was an untidy effort, shanked into the roof of the net, but the Linkopings striker couldn’t miss from six yards out.
The 23-year-old, who opened her World Cup account against Canada in the second round, appeared rejuvenated by her tenth international goal and could have earned a brace, but she clipped low and wide after an industrious and jinking foray forward. The teams paused for a second cooling break on 75 minutes, and Germany thrived in the commencing act.
Their manager, Martina Voss-Tecklenburg, had thrown on 17-year-old hope Oberdorf on the hour, shifting Alexandra Popp further forwards. Make no bones about it, Germany were throwing everything upfield. Oberdorf missed a guilt-edged header. Lindahl burst to the edge of her area to mop up Eriksson’s backpass.
Surely an equaliser beckoned. In the six minutes of additional time, Däbritz bolted a first-time shot at Lindahl, while Hegering headed over having outfoxed Hanna Glas. She couldn’t attain for her earlier error and with that, the German ghost would be confined to horror stories of the past.
Follow Alistair Hendrie on Facebook and Twitter, and see more of his Women's World Cup coverage here