A sign of flexibility or weakness? Maybe both, plus Belgium improved

LEAGUE, England – On a humid, cold Friday night in Lee, it took Sweden – the highest-ranked team at Euro 2022 – 92 minutes and 33 shots to score in what was an absolutely disappointing evening for them against Belgium, and it is their last. The loser 1-0 win.

Few gave Belgium any chance to head into this match. The 19th-ranked team in the world was the surprise runaway from Group D with Italy and Iceland seen as likely the ones most likely to advance. However, Belgium on Friday showed that they are slippery opponents who know how to keep their form and frustrate their opponent.

“We have already secured our first goal, which is to qualify for the quarter-finals,” Belgium coach Yves Cernells said before the match. “But that doesn’t mean we won’t now have a combative mindset. We haven’t gone so far as to give it up.”

Belgium certainly showed a fighting mindset, but Sweden’s inability to take advantage of their own chances was a real disappointment for the side that night. This will be a concern for coach Peter Gerhardsson as Sweden looks to meet in the semi-finals with England, who will not only have two more days to prepare but also lead both the team and the individual.

Things looked like business as usual for Sweden in the first half when Kosovare Aslani sent a pass to Stena Blacksteinius, who beat goalkeeper Nikki Evrar. However, the VAR review said Plastenius was offside and the goal was not allowed. Things started to go downhill for Sweden from there because they lacked any kind of precision in front of goal.

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In the first half, Sweden had 15 shots on goal against Belgium’s goal and an expected goal of 1.62 against 0.03 for Belgium. Sweden had 20 touches of the ball while attacking Belgium’s penalty area while the latter had only three touches. Sweden’s 20 touches and 1.62 xG were the most memorable at that point in the entire tournament – but poor touches and confusion in front of goal left them not firing a single shot past Evrard.

By the end of the match, Sweden had 33 shots on target, 10 of which were on target. Evrard saved seven saves (for example, the most in any Euro match is 12) and her team had only three shots on target without any of them on target.

It was fitting, however, that when Sweden’s breakthrough came, it was by a fixed piece. Aslani put a cross inside the penalty area after two minutes of extra time, which Everer shot wide. Her passes fell until she got to Natalie Björn, whose shot stopped the goal line but landed at the feet of Linda Sembrandt, who fired her into the top of the net.

It was a messy issue but Sweden won’t bother at the moment. The goal was their fifth from a steady piece this tournament, more than any other team.

Perhaps more defensive qualities should have been introduced to Belgium before the match. They had snatched a 1-0 win over Italy and only lost 2-1 at the hands of group favourites France. Iceland scored only one goal against them. They went to the knockout stages where the team with the fewest shots on target, conversely, only Finland (84) faced more shots against them (70). With these numbers and as indicated in the expected goals, according to ESPN statistics and information, Belgium should have conceded at least eight goals, but instead they allowed only three goals to enter before Friday night.

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A word must be given here to Belgium goalkeeper Evard who won the Man of the Match award despite being on the losing side. This feat seems even more impressive when you consider the fact that Evrard is a semi-professional soccer player who also rents out bouncy castles in her spare time. Having recently joined Leuven from Gent, soccer is her passion but the rental business gives her financial stability. It’s a crazy concept for a goalkeeper who just performed in the quarter-finals of a major tournament.

“I think Belgium got a bigger name than it did before the tournament,” Evrar said after the match.

While there may be celebrations for Sweden tonight, they face a huge test against England. Sweden’s championship has been devastated by COVID-19 cases and a quick turnaround may be even more difficult for them. Captain Magdalena Erickson admitted that she was in tears after the final whistle.

“It feels unbelievable,” said Ericsson. “That was our goal for the day. It wasn’t easy. Belgium made it really difficult.” “I’m so happy we got the win. I’m so happy for Linda that we scored the goal in the end.

“It was really tough. We had to really keep our mental strength. We had to stay positive. We did it. We were going to go until the 94th minute and keep pushing. We made it through, and I’m really excited to play the semi-finals.

“So many feelings. I felt the tears come because I was so happy. It was a frustrating evening. To finally get that relief, oh my gosh. I’m so proud of all the girls for how hard it was to fight.”

There will also be some concern about the fitness of Plastenius, who fell to the ground for treatment after the final whistle and suffered injuries throughout the tournament. As one of her top attacking options and someone familiar with the Women’s Super League, where there are many English players, her fitness will be key along with the better performances of players like Fridolina Rulfo. England have a solid set-piece defense at Millie Bright and it seems unlikely that they will be able to count on them in the same way.

One would think that England coach Sarina Wegmann would happily rub her hands together after tonight – but it’s never right to count a team like Sweden out. The winner of the match 92 minutes after qualifying for the semi-finals of Euro 2022 is the latest proof of that.

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