Women’s Olympic final preview: Can German flair break Swedish efficiency?

By Samindra Kunti in Rio de Janeiro

August 19 – Sweden and Germany will dispute the Olympic women’s gold medal match at the Maracana, but the team that is only in Brazil because the Brits stunningly couldn’t agree to play together, has split opinion over their unadventurous style of play. 

Sweden has been competing in Rio in lieu of England, who had qualified courtesy of a third place at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada. The English FA had intended to take the team under the flag of the Great Britain team to Brazil, but the other British home nations (Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) objected, fearing that Team GB could create a precedent for future international tournaments and impact on their sovereign status at UEFA and FIFA.

At the London Olympics in 2012, the FA, as host, entered men’s and women’s team under the flag of Great Britain with the reluctant agreement of the other home nations.

Sweden accepted to play at the Olympics and has progressed to the final. They scraped through to the quarter finals finishing third in their group with South Africa, China and the host, but the manner of their knockout victories over USA and Brazil, both after a penalty shout-out, has drawn criticism.

American goalkeeper Hope Solo castigated the Swedes, describing the Scandinavians as “cowards” for their hold-and-hit strategy. Pia Sundhage’s team has employed a 4-5-1 in the knockout rounds, with scathingly defensive football based on a rigid organisation and containment. Sweden has scored only three goals in open play so far, Germany have scored 12.

In the semi-finals Sweden broke Brazilian hearts. Marta and Formiga, the heartbeat of the Brazilian team, had been formidable, but were unable to unlock the opposing defense, despite having thrashed them 5-1 in their group game.

“I just felt confident and motivated at playing in one of the most incredible atmospheres I’ve ever experienced,” said Swedish goalkeeper Lindahl. “At the end of the day, it’s just me against the penalty-taker. If you can ignore the noise around you, or at least not let it bother you, then penalties can end up being a lot of fun.”

Sundhage, who coached the US winners in 2008 and 2012 and can become the first woman to lead two different nations to gold, won’t change her approach for the final against Germany.

For Sundhage’s German counterpart Silvia Neid (pictured) the final will be a farewell match. It’s the first time that Germany has reached the final of the women’s football tournament. Neid will step down after the tournament. Under her guidance, Germany disappointed at the last two World Cups, with a quarter-final exit and a fourth place respectively.

Her retirement will mark the end of an era for German women’s football. In 1982 Neid played in the German team’s first ever international against Switzerland, 5-1. Steffi Jones will took over the helm from Neid, who will become the director of women’s football at the German FA, the DFB.

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