Two-time World Cup winners Germany take on Olympic silver medallists Sweden in the Women's World Cup quarter-final in Rennes on Saturday. Tim Stillman sees Germany progressing passed a stubborn Swedish side...
"The Germans will know Sweden defender Nilla Fischer well enough, who recently spent six years hoovering up trophies with Wolfsburg. Her duel with Alexandra Popp in the German forward line will hold one of the keys to this game."
Germany v Sweden
Saturday 29 June, 17:30
Germany haven't always looked as strong as their results suggest
So far in this World Cup, Germany have won all four of their games without conceding and having helped themselves to nine goals in the process. Yet they have not fully convinced. China exposed an open looking Germany defence on match day one with an effective high press. The 1-0 victory over Spain owed much to a defensive error from a toothless Spanish side.
However, they have hit their stride in their last two games, thumping South Africa 4-0 and Nigeria 3-0. Sweden will represent an altogether stiffer challenge. The Germans will know Sweden defender Nilla Fischer well enough, who recently spent six years hoovering up trophies with Wolfsburg.
Her duel with Alexandra Popp in the German forward line will hold one of the keys to this game. You can get 7/2 on Popp to open the scoring, or else 7/2 on Sweden to keep a clean sheet. Germany have a lot of other attacking quality besides. Lea Schuller is one of the best young attackers in Europe but has struggled to mesh with Popp in the past. She broke her World Cup duck against Nigeria and is rated at 6/4 to double her tournament tally and score at any time against the Swedes.
Marozsán to make the difference for Germany
Germany boss Martina Voss-Tecklenburg will hope that creative midfielder Dzsenifer Marozsán is fit after breaking her toe in the opening game. She makes the Germans a far more unpredictable outfit with her probing from midfield. Her partnership with Sara Däbritz is one of the best attacking midfield units in world football.
They will be required because Sweden are a tough nut to crack defensively. They made seven changes for their 2-0 defeat to the US in the group stages, so that result can be taken with a pinch of salt. Sweden are Olympic silver medallists, though they did lose to Germany in the 2016 final in Rio.
Sweden have quality on the counter-attack
Sweden are about more than just defence, however. Former Manchester City forward Kosovare Asllani has been one of the most productive attackers at the tournament with two assists and two goals. In her prime years at 29, Asllani has developed an appetite for big moments.
You can get 12/1 on her to open the scoring in this one. Lina Hurtig and Madelen Janogy also offer quality and energy from the bench. They can both slot right into Sweden's counter attacking game plan if their other forwards tire. Germany have yet to concede in the World Cup and have only allowed three shots against them from open play- they have tightened up after a shaky defensive performance against China on match day one.
I expect Sweden to cede possession for long periods, soaking up pressure before springing counter attacks through Asllani, who plays behind Stina Blackstenius upfront and either side of Fridolina Rodolfo and Sofia Jakobsson, neither of whom are shy about taking on full-backs and testing goalkeepers. Captain Caroline Seger will sit in front of the Swedish defence with Elin Rubensson, offering a sturdy, direct riposte to Germany's Marozsán and Däbritz axis behind Alexandra Popp.
Germany push their full-backs very high and China were able to expose the centre-halves time and again with a high press. How Sweden can mix playing a deep block in defence and a high press through the trio behind the striker will hold the key to their success. You can get 7/1 on Sweden to win to nil. If they are to win this game, it will be in no small part due to an expert defensive display from a team experienced at shutting opponents out.
Germany to progress
That said, I simply cannot see past a Germany win. They are coming into form and will likely be able to count on the gifts of Marozsán. It won't be easy for Germany to break Sweden down with their experienced defence and midfield double pivot. I think the Germans will have too much attacking quality. If Germany take the lead, Sweden's gameplan becomes difficult to maintain. My recommended bet is for Germany to win by exactly two goals as Sweden chase an equaliser at 4/1.