Australia’s fairytale home Women’s World Cup ends in defeat to Sweden in third-place playoff

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It has been a history-making, game-changing Women’s World Cup for Australia, but the Matildas’ participation in the tournament ended in a 2-0 defeat to Sweden in the third-place playoff on Saturday.

Still, this match marked new frontiers for women’s soccer in Australia following a World Cup which has seen soccer mania grip the nation as the Matildas achieved its best ever result in the tournament.

Nobody wants to appear in the third-place playoff and it normally produces a muted atmosphere but such has been the support for the Matildas this World Cup that even after Sweden had taken an ultimately unassailable 2-0 lead, the capacity crowd in Brisbane still cheered every pass, every tackle, every probing run.

But even facing this partisan atmosphere, Sweden displayed its class as a penalty from Fridolina Rolfö in the first half and a sparkling goal from captain Kosovare Asllani secured victory, and third place.

For Sweden, finishing third is a familiar way to end the World Cup, having done so in 1991, 1995 and 2019, and it marks a brighter end to the tournament after a heartbreaking loss to Spain in their semifinal’s dying moments.

The Matildas, meanwhile, finish fourth having never progressed beyond the quarterfinals in previous tournaments.

Sweden dominates

Sweden had the better of the early exchanges, forcing the Matildas off the ball and dominating possession. The Blågult had shown intent from the very first minute, as Stina Blackstenius outpaced the Australian defense, latched onto Asllani’s pass and fired a shot on goal but a diving save from Australian goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold deflected the danger away.

And though Australia was initially limited to counteroffensives, it seemed as if the tide had started to turn as the Matildas’ light blue away shirts streamed upfield and sustained a period of pressure for the Swedish defense.

Then, just as the Matildas were finding a foothold in the game, Sweden landed a hammer blow in the 30th minute when the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) awarded a penalty against Australia for contact in the box.

Rolfö stepped up and coolly prodded the ball into the side netting, inches beyond Arnold’s outstretched fingertips, and gave Sweden a 1-0 lead.

And the Blågult almost took a 2-0 lead into the break as Filippa Angeldal fired the ball towards the goal just before half time, but Arnold dove, scooped the ball off the ground, and kept Australia within reach.

Sweden never appeared likely to relinquish its lead and though the Maltildas kept pressing after half time, they lacked a clinical edge, often falling off possession and their attempts on goal left Swedish stopper Zećira Mušović relatively untroubled.

Asllani’s moment of magic came in the 62nd minute as she broke clear in midfield and found Blackstenius. The forward was heavily marked and passed the ball back to Asllani on the edge of the box who fired the ball into the corner of the net, past a diving Arnold.

Eight minutes later, Australia had an opportunity to halve Sweden’s lead but Claire Polkinghorne’s shot landed comfortably in Mušović’s arms, and, with a hobbling Sam Kerr – who had briefly left the field injured late in the game – the Matildas’ attack was ultimately unable to find the back of the net.

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