Sweden reached the semi-finals of this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup and won against England the match for the third place. They were able to win five out of their seven games in France and were a joy to watch.
Kosovare Asllani was one of the key players for the Swedish national team during the tournament in France. This tactical analysis will explain her abilities and show her impact on Sweden’s game during this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup.
Sweden’s way in France
Sweden were in group F together with Chile, Thailand and one of the big favourites, the USA. It was clear that the United States would go through to the round of the last 16 as the winner of this group. Furthermore, everyone expected Sweden to be in second place after the third matchday. Since it was for the Chilean national team the first time that they qualified for a FIFA Women’s World Cup and for Thailand it was the second time after 2015.
On matchday one, Sweden was able to take away a 2-0 victory against Chile and just five days later they won 5-1 against Thailand. With six points out of their first two games, Sweden was already through to the next stage of the tournament. Since the U.S. of course also won their first two matches in group F, the clash between Jill Ellis’ team and the Scandinavians decided who would be the winner of their group.
However, Sweden lost the game 2-0 and so they ended the group stage in the second place. In the round of the last 16, they played against Canada who are in the fifth place of FIFA’s world ranking (Sweden is in the ninth position). Peter Gerhardsson’s team were able to take away the win due to the only goal of the day which was scored by Stina Blackstenius after a great pass by Asllani.
In the quarter-final their opponents were Germany and so Sweden was the clear underdog. Although Gerhardsson’s team was able to win the game with 2-1 and went through to the semi-finals where they faced the Netherlands. After 90 goalless minutes, the game went into extra-time. Jackie Groenen scored the winning goal for the Dutch team in the 99th minute and so Sweden was knocked out of the tournament. However, they managed to secure the third-place due to their victory in the play-off for the third place against England.
Asllani’s career so far
Born in 1989 in a little city called Kristianstad in Sweden, Asllani is of Kosovar-Albanian descent. At the age of 15, she started her career at second-division team Vimmerby. There she scored 49 goals in 48 appearances and so many other clubs took notice of her. In 2007 she joined Linköpings who were in the first division in Sweden. In 2010 she played one season at Chicago Red Star but returned then to Linköpings.
After her return to her hometown club Kristianstad in 2011, she spent just half a year there and moved then to PSG in the summer of 2012. She played there three-and-a-half years and scored 39 goals in 59 matches. In January 2016 she joined Manchester City and stayed there until the summer of 2017 when she once more returned to Linköpings where she currently plays.
In September 2008 Asllani made her debut for the Swedish national team against Romania and made since then 133 appearances and scored 34 goals.
Positioning and movements
Sweden used to play with a 4-2-3-1 formation which transformed into a 4-4-2 when the opposition was in possession. Asllani was the one who played either as the offensive midfielder behind Blackstenius or beside her upfront. So, she either appeared on the teamsheet as number 10 or as the second striker in the 4-4-2.
Gerhardsson gifted her a lot of freedom. Sweden’s back-four and the two central midfielders were responsible for the build-up. On the other side, one of Asllani’s most important tasks was to be the linking between these players and the offensive. So, she mostly positioned in the half-spaces or between the lines of the opposition. As you can see in her heatmap of the World Cup, she preferred the right half-space but in general, she moved a lot to be a passing option.
As explained above, Asllani always tries to open up passing lanes and move between the opponent’s lines. She’s really good when it comes to these abilities. In addition, she has the technical qualities to get the ball under control quickly as later explained.
Sweden often used crosses to get into the penalty box and create goalscoring chances. They crossed on average 14.71 times per game. Since Blackstenius was always the only striker, she mostly needed Asllani’s support to occupy the dangerous areas in front of the goal. She has got a good feeling for the situation and where she should position herself. If Blackstenius was at the front post, she was a bit behind and if she was alone in the centre, she tried to make a run towards the first post.
Dribbling and passing
As you would expect from an offensive midfielder, Asllani has got great abilities on the ball. Even though she isn’t the quickest, it’s extremely hard to defend against her. There are three main reasons for that: her movements in the free spaces as explained above, her control of the ball and she knows how to use her body to shield the ball. She was fouled 19 times during this year’s World Cup what shows how hard it is to defend against her.
In the example below, she won back the ball for her team just a second ago. Now she wants to dribble inside where a lot of free space is. She uses her body to avoid the opportunity for the opponent to tackle. So, the Englishwoman just had the option to foul Asllani since otherwise, the Swedes would get into a dangerous position with a lot of space.
Asllani often tries to receive the ball between the lines and then either lay off the ball for one of her teammates or tries to start a dribble. She dribbled on average 4.98 times during this tournament and 73.5% of these dribbles were successful.
In the images above, you can see a typical action of Asllani. The 29-years-old receives the ball in the free zone and notices the space in front of her. So, she starts to dribble forward and all the defenders are focused on her. Due to that, Sofia Jakobsson has got space in the wide area and so Asllani passes to her.
She passes on average 29.71 times per game and tries to link up with her teammates as often as possible. However, most of her passes aren’t the last ones before her team scores. Mostly, she is responsible to get into the last third. She receives a pass from the defenders or central midfielders and then she passes to the wingers to get them into a good crossing position. Just like in the example above against Germany. However, Asllani is also able to play a penetrating pass like she did when she assisted Blackstenius’ goal against Canada.
Asllani scored three times in the seven games at this year’s World Cup in France. The two main reasons for these three goals are her technical ability and her positioning which was already described in this analysis. As already mentioned, she often supports her teammate Blackstenius in the penalty box. In truth, before every single goal of her, she just positioned like a second striker and the ball dropped for her. In the shot below, the Englishwomen weren’t able to clear a cross and so the ball dropped perfectly for the 29-years-old who made it 1-0 for her country.
Her goal against Chile was similar. She just positioned in the penalty box and the ball was somehow suddenly before her feet. However, Asllani’s goal against Thailand was a bit different. She once more joined her teammates in the box before a cross. Lina Hurtig’s header was saved by the Thai goalkeeper and so Asllani found herself in the position like you can see in the image below. However, she stayed calm, dribbled past her opponent and shot into the near corner to score
Leading the press
However, she also had an important role in Sweden’s tactics when their opponents were in possession. In these cases, they formed a 4-4-2 formation with Asllani and Blackstenius upfront. In these situations, she was very often the one who decided when to press in at the opponents and when to sit back. However, she always waited for a bad first touch or an imprecise pass by the opponent to put pressure on them. As soon as Asllani started the pressing, the rest of the team knows that they also have to push forward.
It was a great Women’s World Cup for the Swedish national team and as this scout report showed Asllani was very important for the team. At the age of 29, it is sure to say that it wasn’t the last major tournament for her and especially not the last caps for her national team. Considering this, there’s still a lot more to come for her.
However, it will be interesting to see if he joins a new club during this summer or if she stays at her current club Linköpings.
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