Sweden beat England to Womens World Cup bronze with help from VAR

Sofia Jakobssons 22nd-minute goal proved decisive as Sweden won 2-1 in the third-place play-off after Ellen White had what looked like the equaliser chalked off by VAR

Rotherham in November does not have too much in common with Nice in the searing 30C heat of a July evening but there was a definite sense of deja vu on the Cte dAzur on Saturday night.

Phil Neville readily admits that one of his toughest moments as England coach came in South Yorkshire late last year where a soul-crushing 2-0 defeat inflicted by Peter Gerhardssons side ruined his Christmas.

Following a shocking start this was an improved, if at times flawed, performance but still proved insufficient to overcome the Lionesses fellow losing semi-finalists. Falling slightly short in the face of the United States in Lyon last week was one thing but this served as a salutary reminder that England are not quite as good as sometimes advertised. Their style may have changed from four years ago in Canada where they finished third but deficiencies remain.

Neville knows it but nonetheless enjoyed the joke when, shortly before kick-off, Baroness Sue Campbell, the Football Associations head of womens football, told him that bronze can look a lot like gold, viewed in the right light.

The problem was that, despite joking that he was going to buy a new light to shine on that prospective medal at his family home, Nevilles side needed to actually beat Sweden and as England swiftly conceded twice it became apparent that this would be easier said than done. They subsequently improved, dramatically, but it was too little too late.

It was probably our worst 20 minutes and our best 70 minutes of a tournament in one but this playoffs a nonsense game, admitted Englands manager. We feel disappointed, frustrated because weve not achieved our goals. Im not disrespecting the playoff but we came here to win the tournament. We wanted gold not bronze. Theres a million things I could have done better but I cant ask anything more of my players.

Kosovare
Kosovare Asllani drills Sweden into an early lead. Photograph: Joosep Martinson – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

His team looked mentally shot as, in the 10th minute, Fridolina Rolfos unopposed cross highlighted their defensive vulnerabilities.

Although Alex Greenwood eventually attempted to intervene she merely succeeded in cushioning the ball superbly for Kosovare Asllani to sweep the crispest of shots into the bottom corner.

Shortly afterwards Sofia Jakobsson cut in unimpeded and, with Steph Houghton, uncharacteristically, standing off, Jakobsson whose duel with Greenwood turned into a principal subplot sent a sumptuous shot curving imperiously beyond Carly Telford.

Fran Kirby helped turn the tide a little. The Chelsea creator had an excellent playmaking evening and should be exempt from any criticism. One early cameo proved emblematic of her display; it began with connecting with a fabulous, defender disorientating, pass from Jill Scott one of the tournaments real stars before making the very most of it.

There was the fabulous touch to drag Kirby away from her marker and then the beautifully weighted, subtly curling, left-foot shot which went in off a post. Earlier Hedvig Lindahl had done very well to divert Lucy Bronzes 25-yard cannonball but, this time, Swedens goalkeeper had no riposte.

Lindahl was beaten again after Nevilles leading scorer, Ellen White, chested Beth Meads cross down, turned Linda Sembrant and lashed home but a VAR check ensued and that goal was disallowed after it was decided that the ball had been tamed by the suddenly incandescent strikers arm.

Ellen
Ellen White controls the ball before scoring a goal that was disallowed after a VAR decision of handball. Photograph: BBC Sport

No wonder White looked so enraged, the ball appeared to bounce from chest to arm, making entirely inadvertent and non-consequential contact with her hand before a superb, technically assured, finish. In those increasingly sepia-tinged days before VAR it would have undoubtedly stood. Sometimes the law really is an ass. I dont know where the games going, said Neville. I really dont.

At least England were disrupting Swedens initially meticulous organisation, inducing an untypical element of untidiness to their play. Neville endeavoured to make it count by introducing Jodie Taylor in a rejig involving White shifting left in a new look 4-3-3 formation.

With Scott and Kirby particularly influential the Lionesses began passing and moving according to the Nevellian gospel. The tone was further raised as Karen Carney drew the afternoons biggest cheer from the 21,316 strong crowd by jogging on to mark her final game before retirement by winning the 144th cap of a wonderful career.

Sweden though had dropped deep, their positioning and body language challenging England to get behind their defence. Although it took a terrific headed clearance off the line from Nilla Fischer to prevent extra time after Bronze swung a boot at the high velocity fallout from a corner, even a handful of typically clever Carney manoeuvres could not quite unhinge them.

As Englands players slumped to the turf, Sweden celebrated bronze as if it really was gold. Ikea must surely stock a light which will perform the necessary alchemy in Gerhardssons home.

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2019/jul/06/england-sweden-womens-world-cup-third-place-play-off-match-report

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