England, Sweden primed to serve up thriller in third place playoff

Despite semifinal heartbreaks, England and Sweden have the precious Olympic qualification in the bag. An opportunity to end with a medal beckons as the European sides clash in the third place playoff.

ENGSWE

England vs Sweden, third place playoff, FIFA Women's World Cup 2019   -  Getty Images

England and Sweden will be aching from their narrow defeats to USA and Netherlands respectively, bowing out at the semifinal stage of the Women’s World Cup. Also, the third-place match offers nothing tangible for the two semifinalists, except that the winner goes home with a medal.

For the players involved, it is another international appearance and it’s another potential 90 minutes for the likes of Ellen White to pip a rival to an individual award — the Golden Boot.

England and Sweden have secured qualification for Tokyo 2020 after their quarterfinal wins over Norway and Germany respectively.

READ: England midfielder Carney to retire after Women's World Cup

England has been one of the teams that has lit up the tournament with its expansive style of play. Phil Neville’s team averages 1.83 goals per match and had been irrepressible until it came up against a stubborn defence in USA.

There, too, it had opportunities to score more than one goal and, in hindsight, the players will feel they spurned an opportunity to dump out the defending champion and brighten their own prospects of lifting the trophy on Sunday.

The other semifinalist, Sweden, has not been as free-flowing after the thumping win over Thailand in the group stage, but it hasn’t conceded many goals either.

It was denied a place in the final by a solitary, 99-minute goal by Jackie Groenen. Sweden has the potential to cause England problems if it strikes the right balance between defensive solidity and attacking endeavour.

READ: Bronze bullish despite Women's World Cup elimination

The third-place match on Saturday is unlikely to be a case of defence versus attack, but it’s between two teams with plenty of attacking talent. England’s White, Sweden’s Kosovare Asllani and Stina Blackstenius, to name a few, have lit up the tournament with their flair and ability on the ball. If the two teams’ performances in the tournament so far is anything to go by, it will be another exhilarating watch for the fans even though the stakes are not as high.

READ: Jakobsson's motivation comes from promise to brother

Performance in the tournament so far

England: The Lionesses won their three group matches, beating Scotland (2-1)Argentina (1-0) and Japan (2-0). Their best performances came in the last-16 and the quarterfinal, where they beat Cameroon and Norway — both by 3-0 margins — before going down 2-1 to defending champion USA in the semifinal.

Sweden: The first of Sweden’s two losses in the tournament came against USA (0-2) in the group stage; it was preceded by comfortable wins against Chile (2-0) and Thailand (5-1). A 1-0 win over Canada in the last-16 and a 2-1 win over Germany in the quarterfinal took the Swedes into the semifinals, where they lost 1-0 to Netherlands.

READ: Lucy Bronze: The making of the Lionesses' World Cup star

Players to watch out for

Ellen White (England): The Manchester City forward thought she had pulled England level with a low, side-footed finish past Alyssa Naeher, only to have the Video Assistant Referee rule out the goal for a marginal offside. White has scored in all but one of England’s matches so far and has the sharpness and confidence to potentially win the Golden Boot. She currently has six goals in her six games, level with USA’s Alex Morgan.

Kosovare Asllani (Sweden): Asllani, Sweden’s playmaker, has two goals and two assists in the World Cup so far. Her two goals and an assist came at valuable times for the side, but her strength lies in her incredible passes in the final third. While England was defensively caught out twice by Alex Morgan and Christen Press' clever movement in the box for their goals, the Steph Houghton-led defence has been watertight for the most part, conceding just one goal in the five matches prior. She took a rather nasty hit to the head in the semifinal but has been training regularly, dispelling concerns of serious injury on her social media channels. Asllani’s creativity will be crucial for Sweden against The Lionesses. Along with the likes of Sofia Jakobsson, Sweden has the ability to be dangerous.

Key statistic:

England’s White has an opportunity to become only the second player in World Cup history to score in six consecutive World Cup appearances, after USA’s Carli Lloyd. She will also be the first player to score in six matches in a single edition of the World Cup.