By Kevin Ashby at Bloomfield Road
Sweden and Finland drew 0-0 in Blackpool on Wednesday to leave all four teams in with a chance of qualifying for the knockout stages when UEFA WOMEN'S EURO 2005™ Group A concludes on Saturday.
Much had been made of the attacking talents at the disposal of Sweden, in particular, and Finland, yet it was the defences which stood tall. It was also a defender who went closest to scoring, Kristin Bengtsson's 78th-minute cross eluding everyone before bouncing to safety off the base of the Finland post. The Finns and Sweden now have one and two points and must win their deciders against Denmark (four points) and England (three).
With the Swedish midfield having been both outfought and outthought by Denmark for much of their 1-1 draw on Sunday, coach Marika Domanski-Lyfors restored veteran Malin Andersson to the side and handed her the captain's armband. Therese Sjögran also came in on the left flank with Caroline Seger and Frida Östberg making way. Finland's solitary change saw Heidi Kackur win her 50th cap up front at the expense of Jessica Thorn.
Sweden made another confident start and a sweeping third-minute move saw Hanna Ljungberg take two Finland defenders out of the game with a clever back-heel to Victoria Svensson who threaded a ball through to the on-rushing Malin Moström only to see Satu Kunnas charge off her line to deny the midfielder. Sweden enjoyed plenty of early possession against a side they had beaten in 23 of their 29 previous meetings yet failed to weave it into chances, their final ball too often lacking the quality of their neat approach play.
Flicks and tricks
Over 22 minutes had past when Finland worked their first opening, captain Anne Mäkinen shooting over following a one-two with Anna-Kaisa Rantanen. The Finns seemed content to contain their opponents, paying particular attention to keeping Ljungberg as far away from goal as possible. The striker was forced to drop deep to win possession and it was in the space between midfield and attack that she was able to showcase her range of flicks and tricks.
In the 34th minute Ljungberg set a move in motion which resulted in Therese Sjögran winning a free-kick on the edge of the Finland box. Andersson stepped up to take it but could only curl the free-kick high over the Finland bar when its position demanded better - the effort summing up Sweden's failure to capitalise on a series of set-pieces. Finland were by no means being overrun, though, and fine late efforts from Mäkinen and Kalmari both forced Sweden goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl into action.
Thorn came on after half-time for Kackur and injected some urgency into the Finland attack, while Josephine Öqvist did likewise after taking Lota Schelin's place on the right flank. The Sweden substitute would have put her side ahead soon after the hour had Bengtsson not stepped into play when taking the throw-in which preceeded the disallowed goal. Suddenly Sweden were invigorated and Bengtsson's piledriver was charged down before Öqvist and Svensson fired over from different corners of the area.
Sweden did all the pressing late on yet only Bengtsson's cross troubled Kunnas, hitting the post. Another heartbreaking ending would have been too much for Finland to take after their loss to England, yet they live on and could yet spring a huge surprise on Saturday.