Sweden and Japan played to a scoreless draw, and although Japan had the better of the play and more chances, Sweden wasn’t exactly dominated, with the exception of a 20-minute stretch in the second half. Really, the game was about what I expected, it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that Sweden is close to the top teams, the question is whether they can get past them and make a run at the gold medal. I think they can, but it might take a couple of breaks. Here’s what we learned:
1) Good technical soccer doesn’t always mean top entertainment
It was the best game of the day technically, especially from Japan, who doesn’t look like they’ve slowed down too much from last year’s World Cup. In fact, if anything, they look like they’re playing with more confidence. But while from a coaching perspective, the passing and movement off the ball was great to see, the game never really came to life until after the hour mark when Japan started to get chances and Sweden finally got to counter a little. Other games had far less technical prowess, but more chances.
2) To change or not to change?
In a rematch of last year’s World Cup semifinal, Sweden coach Thomas Dennerby had six different starters, while Japan coach Norio Sasaki countered with just two, one being the goalkeeper (Mikho Fukomoto) and Yuki Ogimi being the other. Some of Dennerby’s changes were because of injury, either then or now, but he had two new center backs (Linda Sembrandt and Emma Berglund), Sofia Jakobsson – who had a very good first half – out wide with Antonia Goransson on the other side, and Johanna Almgren pairing sitting behind Lotta Schelin up top (the other newbie was Caroline Seger, who missed last year’s semifinal with an injury). There’s no right or wrong answer to this dilemma, although I guess whomever goes farther will be deemed to have made the right moves.
3) Japan’s defense holds the key to their gold medal hopes
If you go back to the friendlies before the World Cup, Japan’s back four looked pretty shaky and unsure of themselves. But they came of age in Germany and Sasaki has been smart enough to keep them together and let them grow (Brandi Chastain made this point, but she’s obviously unqualified and we shouldn’t listen to anything she says). And so Yukari Kinga, Azusa Iwashimizu, Saki Kumagai, and Aya Sameshima are now not only world champions, but might be the best defense in this tournament. Of course, time will tell.
Possession stats, good CONCACAF refs
For those that care about such stuff, it was 58-42 in favor of Japan. Seemed about right. Also, thought Quetzalli Alvarado of Mexico had a very good game in the middle, for what it’s worth.