Sweden’s roster is packed to the rafters with world-class talent, and as the Blågult make their ninth appearance at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, the Scandinavian nation will look to finally lay their hands on the elusive trophy. Having claimed the silver medals in 2003 and taking home the bronze as recently as 2019, there is no doubt that this is a side capable of performing in the latter stages of global competition.
But while they sought to kickstart their campaign with a bang, they’d face tough competition from South Africa. The Banyana Banyana are making just their second appearance at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, and while they are separated by more than fifty places in the World Rankings, Desiree Ellis’ side would feel confident of pulling off an upset of monumental proportions.
SWE: Musovic; Andersson, Eriksson, Ilestedt, Björn; Rubensson, Angeldahl; Rolfö, Asllani, Kaneryd; Blackstenius
RSA: Swart; Holweni, Gamede, Mbane, Ramalepe; Biyana, Jane; Kgatlana, Motlhalo, Seoposwene; Magaia
Sweden’s possession throughout the early stages failed to coem to fruition – and in fact it looked as though it would be the Banyana Banyana that took an early lead. Gamede’s long ball over the top of the Blågult defence created space for Seoposwene, but her cross into the area was lifted over the crossbar by Biyana.
Yet another chance fell for Desiree Ellis’ side as Jane struck a speculative effort from distance, although that flew mere millimetres over the horizontal. Seoposenwe was a bright spark amongst the South African attack, forcing Musovic into action with a tame strike from the edge of the area.
Swart was put to work too though, claiming Angeldahl’s effort from a free-kick – but the goalkeeper’s highlight was a palmed clearance under pressure, as Blackstenius lept to nod home a header at the far post.
Sweden failed to capitalise on a flurry of late corners in the final few minutes of the first half, as Ilestadt planted her header just millimetres over the woodwork. Despite a largely dominant performance, the Blågult hadn’t found their breakthrough, and would head down the tunnel with nothinn to separate them and their opponents.
Yet mere minutes into the second half, it was Magaia that turned the ball over the line for the opener. A long ball split the Swedish defence, with Kgatlana attempting to cut inside on the left flank – though as she got her shot away, Musovic was able to parry it out but only as far as Magaia. The number eight bundled over the line, but looked in severe discomfort after clattering into the base of the goal and tangling herself in the netting.
Just seventeen minutes after taking a shock lead, the Banyana Banyana were forced to retreat to Square One. Kaneryd’s cross arriving from the right flank looked set to be met by Barça’s Rolfö – but it was Ramalepe’s deflection that sent the ball crashing over the line, shattering millions of South African hearts – who, for a quarter-hour, truly believed they’d register their first win on the global stage.
Having conceded the equaliser, South Africa appeared to ease the pressure on the Swedish backline – with the focus seemingly changing from a desire for three points, to desperation for a draw. Conversely, the Blågult evidently felt confident of a win as they upped the tempo and truly applied a constant threat near Swart’s goalmouth for the first time in the match.
Yet in the pouring Wellington rain, Sweden’s greatest chance to take the lead was squandered by Kaneryd. The Chelsea star had every opportunity to pounce on Swart’s slip, but took her eyes off the ball as Schough’s cross arrived – allowing the ball to zip wide of the post
Ilestedt rose to the challenge though, as with just 45 seconds of regulation time remaining, the Arsenal defender powered home the winner after rising highest from a corner. Sweden had certainly made it difficult for themselves, but the primary emotion within Tony Gustavsson’s camp will be one of relief as they walk away with three crucial points.
Group G action resumes on Monday, 24 July 2023 as Italy face Argentina. South Africa will return to the pitch on Friday, 28 July – they’ll face Argentina in Dunedin. Sweden’s next challenge will come in the form of Italy, with the two sides meeting in Wellington on Saturday, 29 July.