After Germany sent a confused, lackadaisical Swedish side home in the first knockout game of the World Cup, Heather Mitts predicted on the Fox postgame show that Pia Sundhage would not stay on as Sweden’s coach.
That may have seemed like a harsh assessment, but it’s one that has since been shared by other former players on the Fox crew.
“She’s moving on…,. She’s gonna go somewhere else,” said former U.S. forward Eric Wynalda.
He added: “I think the game has passed her by.”
(Wynalda, a frequent critic of the current U.S. coach, Jill Ellis, added that he saw similarities between the two women. Both, in his view, are too conservative and predictable in their game plans, too wedded to the way they’ve always done things, too cautious and unwilling to take risks.)
Leslie Osborne, another former U.S. player, said the Swedish team “never had any chemistry or cohesion. …They looked lost out there.”
In that game, Sweden blew two leads (including a 2-0 halftime lead) and allowed the Nigerians to equalize in the 87th minute.
Afterward, Sundhage said, essentially, I coached good, but, man, did they played lousy.
“The game plan was different than what you saw,” she said, adding, “Next time … I hope we will follow the game plan.”
Monica Gonzalez, a former captain of the Mexican national team, isn’t even sure Sundhage deserves the universal acclaim she gets for the job she did as U.S. coach.
Sundhage, hired in November 2007, took over a U.S. team that her predecessor, Greg Ryan, had left in shambles, defeated and demoralized. In her five years as coach, the team did everything but win the World Cup: Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012, a second-place finish at the 2011 World Cup, Algarve Cup titles in 2008, 2010, and 2011.
Still, Gonzalez said, “you can look back and say, How much of her success … was the team that she had, and the talent”?
Sundhage, meanwhile, hardly gives herself a ringing vote of confidence. She sidestepped questions about her future, saying she’s not thinking about that right now. (Her contract is up next year.)
She also declined to assess her coaching performance in the World Cup, saying, “Right now, I’m way too emotionally sad to analyze it at this point. I don’t want to say anything that I regret later.”
So just how bad was Sweden’s showing in Canada?
• The 4-1 loss to Germany was tied for the worst defeat Sweden has suffered in a World Cup. (The team has played in every World Cup since the first one, in 1991.)
• For the first time in its World Cup history, Sweden was winless in group play. The team advanced to the round of 16 on three draws.
• Lotta Schelin, Sweden’s all-time leading scorer, was never a factor. Not only did she fail to score; she didn’t have so much as a shot on goal.
• The loss to Germany not only ended Sweden’s bid for the World Cup; it also guaranteed that the team will miss the 2016 Olympics in Rio De Janiero..
Twelve women’s teams will compete in th 2016 games. Three berths were allocated to European teams, and this World Cup is serving as the European qualifier: The three European teams that go the farthest in Canada will earn the three European slots in the Olympics.
Germany, obviously, has gone farther than Sweden. So has France. So will the winner of Monday’s game between Norway and England.
Against Germany, the Swedish players were on their heels from the opening seconds. Germany controlled the pace from start to finish, dominating play at both ends. The Germans were methodical, skillful and disciplined. The Swedes were tentative, sloppy, and aimless.
Germany nearly scored twice in the first three minutes and pulled ahead 3-0 before Sweden got on the board late in the closing minutes. The Germans had 25 shots (11 on goal) to seven (three on goal) for Sweden. Germany earned seven corner kicks, to two for Sweden.
Sweden’s offense was inept. The team kept trying to create scoring chances off long balls, a tactical trademark of Sundhage’s. But the Swedish passing game was atrocious. Those long balls rarely connected. Many of them didn’t land close to a Swedish player. It was kickball, not soccer.
The result was a complete lack of offensive flow, and an endless succession of turnovers leading to German counter-attacks. Sweden played most of the game in its defensive half, watching helplessly as the Germans advanced again and again.
And Sundhage hardly seemed to notice. She made no attempt to adjust tactically. Her team just kept booming long, erratic kicks, as if maybe the next time that would work.
When Sweden finally scored in the 82nd minute, the Fox cameras caught her celebrating on the sideline as if her team had just pulled even. In fact, by then, the game was over, and so was Sweden’s World Cup. There was absolutely nothing to celebrate, and the display made her look foolish, like the running back who gains three yards on third-and-2, leaps up and makes an exaggerated “first down” gesture — when his team is losing 35-0.