A “nervous” Sweden fought back and struck late on to grab a 2-1 win over South Africa in their Women’s World Cup opener on Sunday in the Wellington rain.
The third-ranked Swedes conjured up the winner in the 90th minute through defender Amanda Ilestedt, much to the relief of their fans in the miserable conditions.
A goal early in the second half by Hildah Magaia -- in which she suffered a match-ending injury -- gave the African champions hope of an upset.
But that was cancelled out by Barcelona star Fridolina Rolfo soon afterwards, before Ilestedt’s late intervention, heading home from close range. It denied South Africa a first point ever at the World Cup.
Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson said “nerves and tension” were behind a shaky start to their World Cup campaign.
The players were also too conservative, he said, something that would be addressed before their second Group G match against Italy.
“It’s ok to be nervous but you need to have the courage to still make that pass,” Gerhardsson said.
“Somewhere we need to dare. The players should feel that they have that courage. Sometimes, like today, they might choose that simpler option rather than a more difficult decision. I do hope we’ll be more courageous in our match against Italy.”
Sweden dominated possession but failed to adapt to cold, slippery conditions.
Regarded as one of the tournament favourites but with a history of near-misses at the World Cup, the Swedes delivered a host of wayward crosses in the first half.
They also looked prone to being caught out by the pace of their opponents.
South Africa’s 48th-minute goal was set up Thembi Kgatlana, whose speed got behind the defence before her cross was parried by goalkeeper Zecira Musovic.
It was bundled in by Magaia, who was tripped at full speed in the process by Jonna Andersson and flew into the goal netting.
The 28-year-old Korean-based striker was treated for several minutes and exited the game soon afterwards, receiving a standing ovation from South African supporters during a distraught circuit of the field.
Rolfo’s 65th-minute equaliser was also messy, scuffing her shot after South Africa failed to clear a Johanna Kaneryd cross.
The shot struck defender Lebohang Ramalepe, who was initially credited with an own goal but it was later awarded to Rolfo -- her 26th goal for her country.
Ilestedt, who was a constant aerial threat, then leapt highest at a corner to bring heartache for South Africa, who lost all three matches in their maiden World Cup appearance four years ago.
Arsenal defender Ilestedt said coming from behind to win would provide a psychological boost.
“I felt that after we conceded the goal we really got into match a bit more and put pressure on them,” she said. “We are really positive about the win. Really happy.”
South Africa coach Desiree Ellis said it was “cruel” her team didn’t come away with at least a point.
“On this performance, even though it was a loss, we’re very proud of the way we played,” she said. “We had a game plan and they did exactly what we thought they were going to do. Decisions in the final third, if that was better, we’d be speaking about a different result right now.”
Italy and Argentina play in the group on Monday.
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