A third-place playoff is the toughest of gigs for teams that had had high hopes of reaching a World Cup final.
Not that anybody had told Sweden, who came out of the blocks to take the Women’s World Cup bronze medal, after securing a 2-1 win over England at the Stade de Nice on Saturday. It’s the third time that Sweden has secured bronze after winning the third-place playoff games in 1991 and 2011.
The bright start from Sweden, who had lost to the Netherlands in Wednesday’s semifinal, capitalized on England’s sluggish opening as Peter Gerhardsson’s team raced into a two-goal lead in the first half.
Kosovare Asllani pounced on Alex Greenwood’s miscued clearance to put Sweden ahead on 11 minutes. England goalkeeper Carly Telford got a hand to Asllani’s shot but was unable to keep it out.
The marauding Sofia Jakobsson was outstanding for Sweden and after hitting the post, the Montpellier forward did find the net, curling an exquisite shot past Telford.
READ: The shy girl from England who became US Soccer’s record-breaking head coach
England had lost to the US Women’s National Soccer Team in the other semifinal and on a baking day in Nice struggled to find their rhythm in the face of Sweden’s blistering opening.
But after Fridolina Rolfö went off with an injury — she was replaced by Lina Hurtig — Fran Kirby rejuvenated England with a fine finish, streaking down the wing before cutting inside and leaving Sweden goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl stranded with a curling shot.
READ: A meteoric rise? Dutch success was decades in the making
Seconds later England looked to be level only for Ellen White’s goal to be ruled out for handball following a VAR check. Just before half-time, White had another chance but her effort was saved by Lindahl.
The second half was a more cagey affair with neither side able to establish ascendancy. With 15 minutes to go, Chelsea forward Karen Carney came on to make her 144th — and final — appearance for England who came desperately close to equalizing late in the game.
A fierce volley from Lucy Bronze, who has been one of this World Cup’s outstanding players, looked to be heading for the net, only for Nilla Fischer to superbly head clear.
“I think it was a carry on from the semifinal,” England coach Phil Neville told BBC Sport, referring to England’s slow start after the disappointment of losing the semifinal to the USWNT on Tuesday.
“It’s a nonsense game,” added Neville as he reflected on the tradition of teams playing the third-place playoff. “We came to this tournament to win it, not to finish third or fourth.”
White pointed to Sweden’s two early goals as the key reason behind England’s defeat.
“We showed our resilience and a lot of character after those goals and in the second half. We had some chances and we gave everything in that game – there’s not one person who didn’t give everything,” White told FIFA’s website.
On Sunday, the USWNT will face the Netherlands in the Women’s World Cup final in Lyon.