To open this year’s World Cup, Sweden hoped for a straightforward contest against, on paper, the easiest team to beat in Group G in South Africa. It didn’t go that way, with the Swedish escaping that contest Wellington by the skin of its teeth with a win. Sweden needed a 90th-minute Amanda Ilestedt goal to get all three points. With Italy and Argentina on the horizon, the Swedish were thought to have a bumpy road to even reach the knockout stage. Consider that sentiment foolish, as Sweden responded with a 5-0 win over Italy on Saturday. Combined with Argentina’s draw with South Africa, the Swedish are through to the knockout stages before the final match day in Group G.
No global tournament winner in history hasn’t gone through adversity. In 2015, the United States took harsh criticism for how it ended the group stage with a scoreless draw against Sweden and scoring only once against Nigeria. The USWNT ended up dominating the rest of the tournament and who will ever forget Carli Lloyd’s first-half hat trick in the final against Japan? In 2019, the USA nearly got exposed by England in the semifinals, but held on to advance. No one is immune. And Sweden clearly has figured something out against an Italian team that was expected to hold its European colleagues in check. Sweden won by five goals and probably deserved a larger margin based on its dominance on Saturday.
Full disclosure, I did pick Sweden to win this whole damn tournament, and the win over Italy was exactly the type of performance I had in mind when selecting it to win. It was a complete team effort with four different goal scorers. And Sweden held Italy to two shots on goal. With the turbulence the United States faced in Group E, the prize for winning that quadrant appears to be avoiding Sweden in the Round of 16. How disappointing would it be for the United States if it doesn’t win one knockout round game? That’s on the table with how greatly Sweden disposed of Italy.
If Brazil doesn’t beat Jamaica on Wednesday, it’s eliminated from the World Cup. What a thud that would be for Marta and one of the tournament favorites, after Saturday’s 2-1 loss to France. The two teams expected to advance easily from Group F went to battle and one is now prone to an early flight home. If only Brazil could properly defend headers on set pieces.
Before Sunday’s scoreless draw against France, the Reggae Girls had never earned a point in a World Cup before. Jamaica lost all three games in its debut appearance four years ago, but did score one goal. Allyson Swaby’s 56th-minute header off a corner kick was the team’s first goal in Australia and New Zealand, and represented Jamaica’s first-ever victory in a World Cup. In a rare all-CONCACAF matchup on the global stage, the Reggae Girls defeated Panama, who were eliminated from contention to advance to the final 16 with the loss.
Jamaica is currently at the top of my list for the most impressive team compared to expectations in the tournament. Keep in mind, Saturday’s victory over Panama came without the team’s best player, Khadija “Bunny” Shaw, because of a red card. She’ll be back for its Group F finale against Brazil. Consider Wednesday’s finale to be must-watch television.