Talking Tactics: Lionesses bid to reach Wembley showpiece
England will bid to reach their first major tournament final since 2009 when they face Sweden at Women’s Euro 2022 tonight.
The Lionesses have tasted defeat in their last three semi-final appearances but there is hope Sarina Wiegman’s side can go one better and reach the Wembley showpiece.
A thrilling 2-1 comeback win over Spain in extra-time set up a clash with Sweden, who dramatically beat Belgium in stoppage-time to advance to this stage.
We look at where tonight's Sheffield showdown could be won and lost.
England out to break duck
Consecutive World Cup semi-final defeats in 2015 and 2019 — either side of a Euros elimination in 2017 — will still live fresh in the memory for a handful of England’s players.
No one more so than experienced right-back Lucy Bronze, who played in all three of those previous tournament heartaches.
The 30-year-old said: "I'm lucky enough to have experienced semi-finals, unlucky enough to have experienced defeat.
"So far things have been a little different from previous tournaments but psychologically we've always been prepared to be at the top.
"A lot of players are used to being in winning teams now more than ever. There are a lot more of those processes that our players are now used to."
Hearts were in mouths when Keira Walsh had to be withdrawn late on against La Roja, with the Manchester City midfield anchor a guaranteed starter if fit and a lack of options in reserve.
The 25-year-old’s distribution has been a crucial component in starting off the Lionesses’ attacks throughout the tournament, with the Spain clash perhaps highlighting her importance the most.
With Barcelona star Aitana Bonmati her opposite number in midfield, Walsh struggled to be her usual creative self and England’s fluidity in attack suffered as a result.
At half-time in Brighton, BBC pundit Alex Scott said of Bonmati: "She is not allowing England to get the ball to Keira Walsh.
"What’s she’s doing on the ball and off the ball in stopping Keira Walsh is fascinating. It’s so great to watch."
It will undoubtedly have been a learning experience for the Lionesses No4 and having come through the battle with the former Champions League winner, she and fellow midfielder Georgia Stanway will feel capable of taking on anyone going forward.
Two wins and a draw saw the Blagult top Group C as winners but they relied on a Linda Sembrant winner in stoppage-time to see off lowly Belgium and seal their semi-final spot.
As the highest-ranked team and one of the pre-tournament favourites, manager Peter Gerhardsson will describe their showing as satisfactory so far.
But with England winning just three of the 26 meetings between these two sides, there is the sense the Swedes may have their number on the international stage.
So much of how Sweden play could depend on the form of Fridolina Rolfo, who has not quite hit the heights reached in Barcelona’s free-flowing attack last season having scored only once so far.
But with the pace and power to hurt anyone on her day, the semi-final stage would be the perfect time to click into gear.
Kosovare Asllani will look to provide the creative spark for her side, with the Real Madrid playmaker’s three assists so far putting her level with Beth Mead and Fran Kirby at the top of the chart.
The counter threat
That said, much of Sweden’s gameplan is likely to centre around stifling England’s attacking threat.
The tournament hosts have taken on a front-foot approach throughout the tournament so far, scoring 16 goals, and that seems unlikely to change at Bramall Lane.
With goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl leading a back-line that has conceded only twice so far, there is the potential for the game to play into Sweden’s hands if they are able to exploit the gaps left by the Lionesses.
But stopping the likes of Mead, Fran Kirby and Lauren Hemp is easier said than done and undoubtedly represents the biggest test for the Swedish defence so far.
As they have done more than once already, the impact of substitutes Ella Toone, Chloe Kelly and Alessia Russo could prove crucial again to unlocking a potentially stubborn opposition.
As we saw against the Red Flames, set-pieces are another strength of Sweden’s and that will mean a big night is in store for Millie Bright in defence.
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