Sweden looked to kill Canada with kindness Sunday in the buildup to their round-of-16 showdown at the Women’s World Cup.
Skipper Caroline Seger and coach Peter Gerhardsson extolled Canada’s virtues while digging deep into their bag of compliments for captain Christine Sinclair.
“When we look at teams that we’re going to play, Canada is definitely one of the most interesting teams to play because you learn a lot,” Gerhardsson said through an interpreter.
Canada coach Kenneth Heiner-Moller and fullback Ashley Lawrence were more restrained in their news conference but they too had nothing bad to say about their opponent.
“These are two very good and very strong teams facing each other [Monday],” said Heiner-Moller, a Dane.
It wasn’t exactly Conor McGregor meets John McEnroe.
Monday’s game at the iconic Parc des Prince is a matchup of the Rio Olympic silver and bronze medallists in ninth-ranked Sweden and fifth-ranked Canada. Ironically Olympic champion Germany, which downed Canada 2-0 in the 2016 Olympic semifinal and Sweden 2-1 in the final, awaits Monday’s winner after disposing of No. 38 Nigeria 3-0 on Saturday.
Watch below: (From June 21, 2019) Some of the best female soccer players on the planet are competing at the 2019 Women’s World Cup, including a couple of athletes from the Durham Region in Ontario. Aaron Streck has the story.
That quarterfinal is set for Saturday in Rennes.
The Canadian women are 5-12-3 all-time against Sweden although they are 3-2-3 over the last eight meetings dating back to November 2011.
Seger knows Sinclair well, having roomed with her during their time together at the Western New York Flash in 2011.
“She’s an amazing football player, an amazing human being,” the 34-year-old Seger said through an interpreter.
“She has proven for many many years that she is a world-class player. She’s done a lot for women’s football. It will be great fun to play against her [Monday].”
Watch below: Some Global News videos about Christine Sinclair.
“We’ve played against her and we know that she is one of the world’s most skilled forwards in terms of tactics,” added Gerhardsson. “There is a reason why she has scored so many goals.”
Gerhardsson also complimented the Canadians for their ability to change tactics on the fly.
“It’s tactically a very skilled team,” he said. “Of course we have a plan for how to break them down in that regard.”
Heiner-Moller talked up his own team, saying it had “worked on being the most adaptable team in the world and more or less take the shape of water. So whatever structure, whatever kind of system they are going to play, we are ready to adapt.”
And Heiner-Moller did warm to the topic of his players enjoying the moment despite the stress of the knockout round.
“There are so many girls out there who want to be in these players’ shoes. And they’re just lucky to be there — not just lucky, they worked hard for it,” he said.
“This is the beautiful game in the world and they should play it with smiles on their faces,” he added.
There will likely be few surprises Monday. Canadian goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé played six seasons in Sweden and speaks the language.
Watch below: Some Global News videos about Stephanie Labbé.
Plus Canada has a Swedish assistant coach in Andree Jeglertz, whom the Canadian team declined to make available for an interview.
Is he your secret weapon, Heiner-Moller was asked by a Swedish reporter.
“He has been an asset ever since he joined us,” Heiner-Moller said of Jeglertz, who goes by AJ in the Canadian camp. “He will be an asset [Monday] and in the preparation, he has been [too].”
Another Swedish reporter looked to garner a headline by citing a report that said the Canadians were happy to have drawn Sweden.
“We’re taking on whoever the tournament decides that we play,” said Heiner-Moller, refusing to bite. “Now it’s Sweden. I’m happy about that. If we get another one, I’ll be happy about that.”
The Swedes will be well-rested for Canada.
Gerhardsson made seven changes for the final group game against the U.S. with only goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl, defender Linda Sembrant, Seger and fellow midfielder Kosovare Asllani remaining from the starting 11 that beat Thailand 5-1 four days earlier.
Gerhardsson said all 23 of his players trained Sunday although he was concerned when he saw two members of the medical staff heading towards the three goalkeepers.
“But it was the goalkeeping coach that was injured so we calmed down quite quickly,” he said dryly.
Heiner-Moller said all 23 of his squad were available to play.
Canada has essentially used the same starting lineup, with Jayde Riviera and Jordyn Huitema inserted in the Cameroon and Dutch games for Allysha Chapman and Nichelle Prince, respectively.
Sinclair has played 240 of Canada’s 270 minutes to date. The 36-year-old from Burnaby, B.C., also has scored eight of her 182 career goals against the Swedes.
Canada won in a penalty shootout when the teams last met, in March at the Algarve Cup in a battle for third place.
“We’ve talked about it and practised some today,” Gerhardsson said of penalties. “And there were some people who were excellent. So we’ll find five players.”
Four years ago on home soil, Canada beat Switzerland 1-0 in the round of 16 before losing 2-1 to England in the quarterfinals. Sweden lost 4-1 to Germany in the round of 16.
But the Swedes traditionally do well at tournaments.
They have made it to the quarterfinals or better in five of their seven previous trips to the World Cup — finishing third in 1991, runner-up in 2003 (when they beat Canada 2-1 in the semifinals) and third in 2011.
They have finished sixth, sixth, fourth, sixth, seventh and second at the Olympics.
“My message is fairly simple [Monday],” Seger said. “It’s about winning or going home. We have to get out there and play at 100 per cent, no regrets when we leave the pitch.”
The temperature is supposed to hit 30 Celsius in Paris on Monday with the forecast calling for 28 degrees at the 9 p.m. local time kickoff.
© 2019 The Canadian Press