Sweden ease for Belgium with eye on semi-final against England | Women’s Euro 2022
It is a measure of Sweden’s growing confidence and form that England’s dramatic progress towards the semi-finals of Euro 2022 must be seen as an alluring prospect rather than a daunting one. Coach Peter Gerhardsson was optimistic he could face the hosts at Bramall Lane next Tuesday.
“I decided to stay in my room to watch the game and thought it was a very good game of football,” the Swedish coach said of the competition’s first quarter-final. “I wasn’t thinking about England, just the game, but I thought to myself, ‘I would like to play against this team and I would prefer to play them here in England’. But I will have to revisit that after Belgium.
Gerhardsson’s conviction was no sign of complacency ahead of Sweden’s quarter-final against Belgium on Friday. Far from there. “We haven’t crossed over so we can’t think of anything at the moment,” he said, when asked that England had two more rest days than their semi-final opponents. Sweden are expected to join Sarina Wiegman’s side in Sheffield next week, however, which brings its own complications.
As Everton’s Nathalie Björn said: “We have a lot of full-time professionals in our squad and we’re under a lot of pressure because of that. But you have to respect Belgium because all the teams in the quarter-finals are good. Belgium’s attack impresses me and their result against France (2-1 defeat) is very impressive. We’ve struggled in the past to unlock deep defenses, but we’ve watched a lot of clips and there are some things in their defense that we can try to exploit tomorrow.
Belgium surprised many, maybe even themselves, by reaching the quarter-finals for the first time in their history by overtaking Iceland in second place in Group D thanks to the winner of Tine De Caigny against Italy. The Red Flames had never qualified for a European Championship until 2017 and Sweden’s experience stands in comparison. First winners on English soil in 1984, this is their 11th participation in a European Championship. They have reached the quarter-finals or better each time, are unbeaten since last year’s Olympic final and – second only to the United States – Gerhardsson’s side are the highest ranked in the tournament.
England will no doubt join Belgium in hopes of an upset at Leigh Sports Village, although Sweden have won all four previous meetings between the two nations. Against Portugal on Sunday, when a 5-0 rout clinched top spot in Group C on goal difference for the Netherlands, it was the cunning of substitute skipper Kosovare Asllani and the potent threat of the striker of Arsenal Stina Blackstenius who stood out for the Swede.
Their aerial advantage over Portugal also supported a dominant display which improved as the competition progressed. But preparations for their return to Leigh have not gone smoothly. Defenders Hanna Glas and Emma Kullberg both tested positive for Covid-19 earlier this week while veteran captain Caroline Seger only returned to training on Wednesday after injury.
“She looked good, so that’s a positive,” said Gerhardsson, who declined to provide an update on the Covid status of his two defenders. “It’s a puzzle to be fitted into the pieces. I’m really sorry for the players who can’t play but we have to keep going. I am creative enough to find solutions.
Ives Serneels, the Belgium coach, doesn’t think Sweden will be diminished by the headache facing his counterpart, despite having a good health record by comparison. “When you see the quality of every Swedish player, it doesn’t change much, so for me it looks like it will be the same,” he said. “We are up against a fantastic European opponent. It won’t be easy, we all know that, but it’s a new phase in the competition. It’s a one-off and tomorrow night we will have a winner. It can be positive for both teams.