Sweden holds off England to finish third at Women's World Cup

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Sweden's Sofia Jakobsson, left, does battle with England's Jill Scott during Saturday's third-place match at the Women's World Cup. (Associated Press)
Sweden's Sofia Jakobsson, left, does battle with England's Jill Scott during Saturday's third-place match at the Women's World Cup. (Associated Press)

For the third time, Sweden is third place at the Women’s World Cup.

Early goals from Kosovare Asllani and Sofia Jakobsson held up despite Fran Kirby pulling one back, and Sweden fended off England 2-1 in Saturday’s third-place match in Nice.

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The Swedes finished third at the inaugural Women’s World Cup in 1991 and again in 2011. Their only better finish was as runners-up in 2003.

Asllani was opportunistic on the first goal, firing home a poor clearance from Alex Greenwood in the 11th minute:

It was Jakobsson’s winner that really stood out, both for its significance and its audacity. With defender Steph Houghton directly in front of her, Jakobsson saw England goalkeeper Carly Telford cheating in her direction and curled the ball far-post:

England closes this World Cup by conceding four times in two games, which seemed unexpected heading into Tuesday’s semifinal loss to the United States. Christen Press scored 10 minutes into that match to break a 381-minute scoreless streak England had put together since the tournament opener against Scotland.

The Lionesses finished third in Canada four years ago, but did not grow as much as may have been expected leading up to this World Cup. Phil Neville’s appointment as manager nearly a year and a half ago signaled a switch to a more defined style of play after constant tinkering under former manager Mark Sampson, who was sacked in September 2017 for “inappropriate and unacceptable behavior.”

In part, Neville’s 4-2-3-1 with the ball was supposed to unlock playmaker Fran Kirby going forward. Kirby pulled one back for England on Saturday, making a smart run down the right side and turning a through-ball from Ellen White into this skillful finish:

For the second time in as many games, White had a goal disallowed by VAR, this time for a handball just past the half-hour mark. She remains level with Alex Morgan in the Golden Boot race at six goals apiece.

Morgan and the USWNT will play for the title on Sunday, and while this World Cup was an affirmation of Europe’s rise, England’s slight step back appears somewhat symptomatic among the continent’s top programs. Germany and France both lost in the quarterfinals, and even with the Netherlands reaching the final, the Americans are still the class of women’s soccer.

No one has played them tougher over the past half-decade than the Swedes, whose veteran spine includes Nilla Fischer and keeper Hedvig Lindahl. Fischer made the save of the match Saturday by heading Lucy Bronze’s volley off the goal line in the 90th minute:

With the rest of Europe on the rise, Sweden will transition into a younger core going forward headlined by attackers Stina Blackstenius and Fridolina Rolfö. They’re perhaps the best nation to have not yet won a Women’s World Cup, and it’s only going to get tougher.

That said, third place is a commendable honor.

Unless you ask Neville, apparently. Despite talking up the match beforehand, Neville told the BBC it was a “nonsense” affair afterward.

This isn’t the first time Neville has stuck his foot in his mouth at this World Cup. He’ll be around to lead the Great Britain team at next summer’s Olympics, though, and have the chance to get the Lionesses over the hump at a major tournament.

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