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'Not a nice feeling' as Sweden seek to inflict World Cup pain on Spain

AFP
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'Not a nice feeling' as Sweden seek to inflict World Cup pain on Spain
Sweden's Sofia Jakobsson, Nathalie Bjorn and Amanda Ilestedt celebrate their team's victory after the end of the 2023 Women's World Cup quarter-final football match between Japan and Sweden at Eden Park in Auckland on August 11, 2023. Photo: Michael Bradley/AFP.

Sweden will feed off the hurt of numerous near-misses when they face Spain in the semi-finals of the Women's World Cup on Tuesday in Auckland.

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Sweden beat Japan 2-1 on Friday to reach their third semi-final in the last four World Cups, and their fifth overall, but they have never gone on to win the tournament.

Peter Gerhardsson's side were also semi-finalists at last year's European Championship and have been beaten finalists at the last two Olympics.

"We have had a lot of good results in recent tournaments so it is not a coincidence that we are in this situation and I think that it is time,"
Sweden's Chelsea midfielder Johanna Kaneryd told reporters on Sunday.

A year ago Sweden were blown away by England at the same stage of the Euro, losing 4-0 to the hosts, who went on to lift the trophy. If Sweden beat Spain at Eden Park they will face England or Australia in the final in Sydney next Sunday.

"That gave us a lot of experience, going into this World Cup knowing what you play for in a semi-final," said Nathalie Bjorn, the Everton player who has been part of a formidable Swedish back four at this tournament.

"That feeling that we had after England beat us 4-0 was not a nice feeling and I know that every individual in our team never wants to have that feeling again."

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Ilestedt for golden boot?

Sweden are ranked third in the world and have shown why, topping their group with three wins out of three before they defeated holders the United States on penalties in the last 16.

They then blew away Japan in the first hour of the quarter-final before surviving a late storm.

In Amanda Ilestedt they have an unlikely contender to win the golden boot. The Arsenal defender has scored four goals, more than any other player still at the tournament and one behind Japan's Hinata Miyazawa.

The only recent meeting between Spain and Sweden dates back to last October, when they drew 1-1 in a friendly in Cordoba.

That game was played just after 15 Spain players told their federation theyno longer wished to be considered for selection, principally out of unhappiness with coach Jorge Vilda.

He survived that rebellion to retain his job, and three of the rebels returned for the World Cup in full-back Ona Batlle, forward Mariona Caldentey and Aitana Bonmati, the brilliant midfielder who has been one of the tournament's best players.

"That is in the past now. It was a difficult situation for all of us but now we are all united and focused on our goal of reaching the final," midfielder Irene Guerrero said on Sunday.

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Barcelona factor

In contrast to Sweden's vast experience of this stage, it will be Spain's first World Cup semi-final.

Indeed, it is Spain's first semi-final appearance of any sort since the 1997 European Championship.

Their World Cup began in promising fashion as they eased to wins over Costa Rica and Zambia, but a 4-0 hammering by Japan suggested they had work to do.

They bounced back to thrash Switzerland 5-1 before edging out 2019 runners-up the Netherlands in the quarter-finals thanks to Salma Paralluelo's extra-time winner.

Spain's lack of experience at this stage of a major tournament is tempered by the fact so many members of their squad play for Barcelona, who have reached four UEFA Champions League finals in the last five years.

"They do have an advantage because it is the fifth time they have been in the semi-finals, but we have players who are experienced too, who have played in finals and other important matches," said Guerrero.

Spain will be without Oihane Hernandez as the full-back serves a suspension.

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