Germany Must Unlock Sweden's Defence If They Are to Take Olympic Gold

Andrew GibneyFeatured ColumnistAugust 19, 2016

Germany's Sara Daebritz (2-R) celebrates with teammates after scoring against Canada during their Rio 2016 Olympic Games women's semifinal match at the Mineirao stadium in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, on August 16, 2016. / AFP / GUSTAVO ANDRADE        (Photo credit should read GUSTAVO ANDRADE/AFP/Getty Images)
GUSTAVO ANDRADE/Getty Images

On Friday night in the Maracana Stadium, Rio de Janeiro, Olympic women's football will crown only its third gold medal-winning team, which in seven tournaments is quite incredible.

Sweden and Germany will do battle for the top prize at the 2016 Olympic Games, as they seek to join an exclusive club occupied by Norway and five-time champions the USA.

Germany have had an up-and-down path to this final. It started so well, dispatching the unpredictable Zimbabwe 6-1.

There was a huge downside to that game as Simone Laudehr had to come off injured and was then ruled out for the tournament.

In her absence, Bayern Munich midfielder Melanie Behringer stepped up her game. She scored twice against the Mighty Warriors and added her third in the group-stage loss to Canada.

A thunderbolt from the 30-year-old was enough to squeeze past China, and then she got the ball rolling from the penalty spot in the semi-final rematch against Canada.

Behringer scores the opener against Canada.
Behringer scores the opener against Canada.Eugenio Savio/Associated Press

It's a return that even Behringer herself is struggling to believe, as she told FIFA.com: "I've never scored this regularly at a tournament before: a goal a game. It's a nice feeling for me. But ultimately the only thing that counts is that we win as a team. If I can contribute to that, then great. In the end it doesn't matter who scores."

The key to Friday's final will be Germany's ability to break down Pia Sundhage's rejuvenated defence.

After a steady start, beating South Africa 1-0 through Nilla Fischer, it all went downhill for the Swedes as they were destroyed 5-1 by Brazil. Although, they would have the last laugh.

A goalless draw against China secured a place in the quarter-finals, but no one expected them to go any further.

As discussed previously in this column, Sundhage had a moment of clarity, changed up the tactics and direction and Sweden found a way to beat the U.S. on penalties to reach the semi-finals.

The Swedish boss, going for her third consecutive gold medal, would be the first to admit that her tactics are neither pretty nor exciting, but the most important thing for the Scandinavians at this point is success.

During the Olympics, you want to be inspired by the sporting feats that you see. Runners wanting to emulate Usain Bolt, Mo Farah or Wayde van Niekerk.

Some of the performances in the swimming pool have been outstanding, and especially in Britain, the achievements in the cycling velodrome will inspire many others to take up the sport.

Sweden's game plan that worked against the U.S., beating them on penalties, then worked again against hosts Brazil, but it won't be catching the imagination of casual football fans. However, back home, the Swedish fans will be loving this turnaround.

All it takes is for little girls or boys back in their homeland to have the desire to emulate the excellent goalkeeping performances of Chelsea Ladies' Hedvig Lindahl, the leadership of Fischer, or to score not one, but two game-winning penalties like Lisa Dahlkvist.

Lindahl has been Sweden's hero in the penalty shootout.
Lindahl has been Sweden's hero in the penalty shootout.Silvia Izquierdo/Associated Press/Associated Press

Lindahl said, per FIFA.com:

I’m delighted that Pia has put her faith in me, and that confidence is crucial to our tactic of inviting opposing sides on and then hitting them on the counter-attack. It’s all down to the whole team, though. To play that way, we have to know exactly what we’re about. I think today you have to give credit to our defence, who cut out an awful lot of crosses.

It's never going to excite the casual fans, but at this point, that's not the priority of the two coaches.

That doesn't mean that Friday night's final doesn't have a huge level of intrigue surrounding it.

We all know Sweden's tactics, they are now well-documented, but vastly experienced coach Silvia Neid—guiding Germany in her last tournament—will also know them.

Her job, in her final game as head coach of Germany, is to conjure up her own plan that will break down the resolute Swedish defence and also stop them hitting on the break.

Germany don't have the same level of flair that Brazil had, but despite having 33 shots on goal, the hosts couldn't find the net. Another approach is needed.

In front of goalkeeper Almuth Schult, Neid has relied on the experience of Saskia Bartusiak and Annike Krahn.

Down the flanks could be key. Using the pace and width of Leonie Maier and Tabea Kemme. However, it's not just the ability to get wide, the quality of the balls into the box needs to be exceptional.

That's where Brazil let themselves down. Dominating possession and shots isn't enough. You need to be clinical and accurate against this Swedish defence.

Germany's attacking play will need to improve from what they have shown so far. Unconvincing against China, it took a superb solo strike from Behringer to separate the two sides.

Neid will be hoping that Sara Dabritz, combined with the exceptional talents of Dzsenifer Marozsan and Alexandra Poppthe trio played together at the U-17 World Cup in Azerbaijancan lead Germany towards gold, and the 21-year-old attacker is already looking to emulate her team-mates.

Dabritz could be key against Sweden.
Dabritz could be key against Sweden.Alexandre Schneider/Getty Images

Bayern Munich's Dabritz told FIFA.com:

Both of them are definitely role models for me. They've already achieved so much at such a young age. It's incredible. They're still pretty young and are already in the senior national side. You can definitely learn a thing or two from them.

[...]

It was crucial because that goal made it 2-0, which gave us much more security. It was important in terms of the flow of the game too, because Canada were putting us under pressure. It really did us good. But even at 2-0 you can't ease off. Things happen so quickly in football. If Canada had scored then we'd probably have lost our way a bit. It was good that we kept them out. We defended superbly throughout the entire game and towards the end we sat back a little bit more as Canada pressed. But we withstood their pressure.

Friday's game will be the first time Germany have played at Rio de Janeiro during these games, something that excites the young midfielder, who explained:

We'll get to experience the Olympic flavour. We'll be in the Olympic Village. And to be able to see how it all works is obviously fantastic. But we're focusing on the match. We've only got two days to recover. It's unbelievable to think that we'll be playing at the Maracana. That was our aim during our preparations for the tournament. We had this objective and this dream and now we've fulfilled it. Now we want to win the game.

The combinations between Dabritz, Popp, Marozsan and Anja Mittag will be crucial in pulling the Sweden defence apart and giving the Germans a chance at fulfilling their dreams of gold.

It’s safe to say that after the group stage, no one would have predicted a Sweden vs. Germany final, but lately, in both the domestic leagues and international tournaments, we have learned the lesson that success is just as much about the team collective than individual ability.

Whoever can come together as the strongest unit on Friday could be the team that finishes with that coveted Olympic gold medal.