Peter Gerhardsson took a moment, then laughed to himself as he pondered the question many in women’s soccer are asking.
Just what will it take for Sweden to end its long wait for a major international trophy?
“The next step,” the Sweden coach told The Associated Press, “is to score the penalty shot.”
Such are the fine margins the Swedes have been treading at the big tournaments over the past decade or so.
A penalty-shootout loss to Canada in the final of the Olympic tournament in 2021. An extra-time loss to the Netherlands in the 2019 World Cup semifinals. A loss to Germany in the 2016 Olympic final. Exits at the semifinals of the European Championships in 2013 and last year.
It’s a tale of woe that would floor many people closely associated with the team.
He simply puts it down to “one of those things” and prefers to take the positives. Essentially, if Sweden’s players keep putting themselves in these good positions, one day they will hit what he calls the “winning formula.”
Maybe that time will come at the upcoming Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
“I don’t believe in being a ‘winner’ or anything like that,” Gerhardsson said in a phone call. “We are competing in a sport where many different things can happen in a game.
“You look at the Olympics (in 2021) where Caroline Seger missed a penalty. I don’t think you can say that if she’d have put it in, we have a better team than in the Euros last year or this World Cup coming now. I don’t believe in that kind of thing.”
Sweden, whose only international title came at the 1984 European Championship when only four teams were involved, is again among the favorites for the World Cup.
How can it not be with a team featuring Fridolina Rolfo, the scorer of the winning goal in the Champions League final for Barcelona this month; or Stina Blackstenius, one of the top strikers in England with Arsenal; or Magdalena Eriksson, one of the most consistent center backs in Europe for years; or Filippa Angeldahl, a midfielder with growing authority at Manchester City.
“Experience for the players playing in big games and big clubs is good for the national team,” Gerhardsson said. “They are used to playing in front of big crowds, with good teammates around them. That’s the most important thing. If you ask me what the best thing is — to play 90 minutes in the Swedish league or as a substitute at a team like Wolfsburg, I’d say the experience (of the latter) is more important.”
It was at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics where then-United States goalkeeper Hope Solo described Sweden as “a bunch of cowards” for dropping off and defending deeply in a quarterfinal match that ended with the Americans losing a penalty shootout.
The Swedes have developed since then and under Gerhardsson, the coach since 2016 and with a contract until 2025, they are a modern-day pressing and counterattacking team, still not one favoring a possession-based approach.
“I say to my girls, ‘Can you remember when you started playing, when you were five, six, seven, eight, what you did when you lost the ball? You chased it.’ Just go — One, two, three four. Everybody wants the ball,” Gerhardsson said. “I want to create some of the intuition that they had when they started playing football. Not be standing, watching slow (buildup play).”
Rolfo will arrive in New Zealand, where Sweden will play its group matches against South Africa, Italy and Argentina, as one of the most talked-about players in women’s soccer after that crowning achievement at the end of her second season at Barcelona.
She’ll play a more attacking role for Sweden than she does at Barcelona, where she has been deployed at left back or as a wing back.
“For me, she has shown she has tremendous left-foot shooting and I need to find positions for her to come in that situation,” Gerhardsson said. “I use her sometimes in different ways. As a No. 10; on the right side coming in with a left-footed shot.
“In the Swedish national team, she has a more offensive position because we need it.”
As for the 38-year-old Seger, she has been included in the squad for what will be her fifth and likely final World Cup despite barely playing over the last year.
“She creates time, always, and has a good technique,” Gerhardsson said. “I like players like that, who have more time than other players.”
Reporting by The Associated Press.
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