Amanda Ilestedt scored in the 89th minute to give Sweden a 2-1 win over South Africa in its Group G opener at the Women’s World Cup on Sunday and deny South Africa the first major upset of the tournament.
South Africa shocked Sweden when Hildah Migala scored in the 48th minute. But Sweden got on the board in the 64th minute with Fridolina Rolfo’s equalizer. Ilestedt then produced a perfect header from a corner with a minute left to help Sweden escape at the end of an unimpressive opening game effort.
Sweden was expected to comfortably win the group and it’s first match against 54th-ranked South Africa looked to be it’s easiest. But after a scoreless first half, Sweden came out of the locker room flat and South Africa capitalized with the first goal of the match three minutes after the restart.
Thembi Kgatlana dropped behind the defense and struck a high shot that keeper Zecira Musovic could only parry. Migala hurled herself forward with such force she was carried into the goal along with the ball.
Sweden failed to take advantage of a dominant first half in which it had 71% of possession, eight corners and five shots on goal, three on target.
Finally urged into action, Sweden pressed forward and equalized when Johanna Kaneryd’s sweeping cross from the right side missed the head of Stina Blackstenius but fell at the feet of Rolfo and ended in the net.
South Africa played in new all black uniforms, a departure from its usual green away strip, and the jerseys were a stark contrast to Sweden’s all gold on a gloomy, rainy evening at Wellington Regional Stadium.
The Banyana Banyana seemed energized and played with a verve which often worried Sweden when it was expressed on sudden, incisive counter-attack.
The South Africa players were buoyant after settling a long-standing pay dispute with their national federation which assured them they will receive the $30,000 FIFA has promised every player at this World Cup. Banyana Banyana players sang and danced as they stepped down from their team bus and made their way to their locker room an hour before the match started.
They sang and danced again as they left the field.
Rain began falling in Wellington about two hours before kickoff and continued steadily, sometimes heavily into the match, glazing the pitch and making it slick in places. The wind, usually omnipresent in Wellington and a factor when Spain met Costa Rica on Friday, was absent and the harbor which flanks Sky Stadium on its eastern side, was glassy.
Ilestedt’s 89th minute goal, a masterpiece at the end of a match in which Sweden seldom sparkled.
The ball was swept in for Sweden’s 11th corner of the match and Ilestedt was perfectly placed to head the ball down and into the net. It was a cruel blow to South Africa who played with great courage and shocked Sweden with the first goal of the match. But it put Sweden’s campaign on track, giving them an expected early lead in Group G.
WHY IT MATTERS
Sweden hadn’t lost a World Cup group match since 2003 and for a moment on Friday that record looked in jeopardy. But goals from Rolfo and Ilestedt, the second with moments left, allowed Sweden to grab an expected Group G win. It wasn’t impressive and Sweden will have to improve.
Italy and Argentina, the other teams in Group G, received a warning not to overlook South Africa after its plucky performance.
Italy and Argentina meet in the next match in Group G in Auckland on Monday. Both will have watched and noted South Africa’s performance. The group suddenly looks tighter than expected.
South Africa plays Argentina in Dunedin on Friday and Sweden faces Italy in Wellington on Saturday.
This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text.
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