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Euro 2022: Sweden look to make experience count vs. England

Matt Pearson Sheffield
July 25, 2022

The first semifinal of Euro 2022 sees a clash of generations as hosts England take on Sweden in Sheffield. While England's young and vibrant side have made waves, Sweden have experience – and some unfinished business.

Sweden players celebrate a goal against Portugal
Sweden picked up seven points and scored eight goals in their three group stage gamesImage: Naomi Baker/Getty Images

That the last meeting between England and Sweden in a major tournament was in the 2019 World Cup third-place playoff seems fitting; both sides have developed an unfortunate habit of coming up just short.

Sweden's triumph on home soil over England in the inaugural Euros in 1984 is the only major honor either side has claimed. But Sweden, who also lost in the Olympic finals of 2016 and 2020, feel they are on the verge of something more concrete.

"I think we're a much better team than a couple of years ago," striker Stina Blackstenius told DW.

"We've been doing great the last couple of tournaments we've played and I feel like we've got a lot of confidence from that. But we also believe that we play really good football at the moment. I believe in our team and our strengths."

Though they possess some top-class players, two of Sweden's biggest strengths have been their experience and their teamwork. A dominant display including 32 shots on goal against Belgium in the quarterfinal didn't yield a goal for 90 minutes. But Peter Gerhardsson's stuck together and remained strong. Their winner eventually came from 35-year-old Linda Sembrant.

Wealth of experience

The Juventus defender is just one of several vastly experienced players in the Swedish squad; one of five women with more than 100 caps, with captain Caroline Seger sitting on 232, the most national team appearances of any European woman.

Not far off her are goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl (192 caps) and the elusive and so-far excellent vice-captain Kosovare Aslanni (165). Lindahl told DW that a group who have played and experienced so much together make for a coherent side.

Hedvig Lindahl celebrates during a Euro 2022 match
Hedvig Lindahl is closing in on 100 caps for SwedenImage: Naomi Baker/Getty Images

"It's a big deal," she said. "We have a lot of discussions about the relationships we have with each other, and how we can best help each other and utilize every different angle of vision that we have out there. I think it's definitely one of our strengths."

Emerging talent for England

England have shown plenty of their own strength, with the staggering 8-0 win over Norway and a grittier, backs-to-the-wall display in the quarterfinal against Spain, who pinned back Sarina Wiegman's team for long stretches. In the end, in contrast to Sweden, it was a pair of relative rookie substitutes who made the difference for England: Ella Toone (22) volleyed in a knockdown from Alessia Russo (23).

Georgina Stanway's powerful winner meant another 23-year-old made her mark in Brighton. Those three players combined have just over half as many caps as Sembrandt. The two replacements have certainly posed questions for Wiegman, with Russo pushing hard to replace White up front and Toone also making her case.

Ella Toone celebrates after scoring for England
Ella Toone's late equalizer against Spain was criticalImage: Matthew Childs/REUTERS

"We have different types of players that can come in and make a a difference," Fran Kirby told DW after the Spain game. At 29, the Chelsea creator is one of the most experienced players in England's side. Only striker Ellen White and holding midfielder Jill Scott are over 30, they're also the only two players to have won 100 caps.

Although England's talent is clear, the pressures and expectations of the tournament could become overwhelming, as attendances have continually smashed records and public interest has soared.

Leading the way

Though they may not be able to match the Swedish squad's longevity, England have a smattering of players who have been at the top level of club and international football for long enough to be a calming influence.

Lucy Bronze is one. The flying fullback will play for Barcelona next season, but won three Champions League titles while at Lyon and played in semifinals of the Euros and the World Cup in the past. She feels a responsibility.

"It's a fine balance between dragging [the younger players] through and making sure they enjoy the moment," she told DW hours after the win over Spain.

"I've played with a smile on my face for most of the game tonight. I think there are so many younger players in our team and you don't want to be panicking and stressed. We want them to express themselves, to play with a smile on their faces as well. And you want to try and set that example for them and not just be constantly pushing them and pushing them. It's about making sure that they're enjoying themselves as well."

Enjoyment may be important, but it won't be the focus for England or Sweden on Tuesday in Sheffield. Whether it's the last chance for Lindahl or the first time for Toone, only Wembley will do.

Edited by Matt Ford.