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Ste Tudor: England v Sweden | The Lionesses to end their semi-final curse but it will be tight and nervy


Ste Tudor: England v Sweden | The Lionesses to end their semi-final curse but it will be tight and nervy

Ste returns with his best bets on an historic night for English Football

THE good news is that Sarina Wiegman’s Lionesses have the beating of Sweden this Tuesday evening at Bramall Lane. The bad news is that our nerves will likely be shredded, with a close, low-scoring grind anticipated.

That hardly surprises given the respective standing of both teams that could cancel the other out with a momentous reward at stake, while historical context is relevant too. Having won the inaugural Euros in 1984, Sweden have come so close, so often, losing three finals and three semi-finals since. England, for their part, head into their fourth consecutive semi in a major tournament, enduring exclusively heartbreak to this point.

Of course, the players will pay this little heed once play gets underway, but it will surely nag at tiring senses if the contest remains goalless in the closing stages, and that’s a distinct possibility if the Swedes are true to form.

“I can assure you we are going to have a plan.” That’s what their coach Peter Gerhardsson said post-victory over Belgium in the last eight and he was absolutely not inferring his team will be gung-ho in Sheffield, deploying one of Europe’s best attacking arsenals, but instead look to shut up shop, utilising arguably Europe’s best defence.

Since losing to Canada on penalties in last year’s Olympic final, Blagult are unbeaten in 15, a run founded on nine clean sheets. They have only conceded six in that period and should Tuesday’s clash indeed be tight and tense it concerns that the Swedes haven’t been breached in the last half an hour in any of those fixtures. When added up, that’s seven and a half hours of parsimony during the business end of games.

Under 2.5 goals at Bramall Lane offers up a tempting 4/6

They really are an exceptionally well organised rear-guard and they’re not too bad up front either, even if sometimes their attacking prowess is suppressed by Gerhardsson’s conservatism.

That however is not the case with Stina Blackstenius, the Arsenal forward who typically thrives on the direct style Sweden can resort to. The 26-year-old scored 0.85 goals per 90 on joining the Gunners last January and though she has only notched once so far this tournament, a disallowed effort against Belgium highlighted her genuine threat.

Arcing her run between two defenders, the striker drew the opposition keeper out before clinically slotting it home and even if she was adjudged to be centimetres offside it brought home how quickly Sweden can switch from being solid to scintillating.

Elsewhere, Fridolina Rolfo began the competition all guns blazing and though her performances have dipped of late she remains a constant danger. In midfield meanwhile, Kosovare Asllani has schemed and sparkled and a fascinating duel with Keira Walsh awaits.

Sweden then are very hard to break down and will pose problems for Leah Williamson and company at the other end, and before we detail why this ultimately won’t be enough there are a couple of other things to consider too. They are an experienced squad, well equipped to handle the pressure of such an occasion, and it’s also maybe pertinent that six of their personnel ply their trade in the WSL, making them familiar with their foes.

Back a low corner count from England, who only won two despite thrashing Norway 8-0. On average, they’ve racked up 5.2 across the tournament so under 5.5 against a tough Sweden side at 8/13 is a great shout.

Yet still, to repeat, all they have to offer very possibly isn’t going to be enough to stick a thorn in the lionesses’ paw, not with England flying at present and in such good shape.

It is telling that both sides have averaged 19.2 attempts on goal per 90 at the Euros so far, but England have averaged 10 shots on target to Sweden’s seven. Consequently, Wiegman’s side have scored 16 goals to Sweden’s nine, the latter figure suggesting that Blagult can be wasteful of their opportunities.

That certainly cannot be said of the hosts with Beth Mead in particular in sublime form, scoring five in four and leading the Euro goal-scoring chart. Alessio Russo is third and all her appearances until now have come from the bench.

On the other flank to Mead, Lauren Hemp has impressed in flashes and she will be relishing the prospect of coming up against a stand-in right-back in Amanda Ilestedt, with both Hanna Glas and Emma Kullberg testing positive for Covid. This might be the game that sees Hemp truly shine and be England’s difference-maker, as hoped for pre-tournament.

Hemp is 16/5 to score anytime this Tuesday evening.

Yet as impactful as England’s attack has been, even they must take a back seat to the midfield. As illustrated four-fold over the last few weeks, Walsh and Georgia Stanway have the energy and nous to control proceedings in central areas, dictating the narrative of a game that could take them to Wembley on Sunday, with its promise of immortality. It is on these two that England’s dreams will rise or fall this summer, and four games in there has not even been a stumble.

Indeed, the more you assess the pros and cons, the more you suspect that only big-stage nerves can inhibit this fantastically put together collective and on that note all of the pre-match interviews have struck the right tone. England are determined and focused, but also reassuringly composed, ready to attain their destiny.

Can the same be said of us? Definitely not, but thankfully the players won’t be able to hear our crunching of fingernails through the television screen, as we endure a tight, tense England win.

Don’t discount the prospect of extra-time and pens. The Lionesses are 9/1 to win in extra-time and 10/1 to win via spot-kicks. Of these, the former should be prioritised.

 

 

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