Stina Blackstenius celebrates against Ireland. PA
Swede Disposition

Know your enemy: How to stop Sweden and 'world-class' Stina Blackstenius?

Ireland go up against one of the best teams in the world in Gothenburg this evening.


The big question, which is supposedly answered on their new jersey.

The Republic of Ireland will face the question head on today as the sides lock horns in their massive 2023 World Cup qualifier [KO 5.30pm Irish time, live on RTÉ 2 and RTÉ Player worldwide].

The Swedes — the world’s second-ranked team behind USA, 2021 Olympic silver medallists and favourites for this summer’s European Championships — are all but qualified for Australia and New Zealand 2023 as Group A’s runaway leaders, but a point against Ireland will seal the deal and send them down the automatic route.

They’re one of few teams with a 100% record through qualification thus far; scoring 26 goals and conceding just one.

Vera Pauw’s side, meanwhile, are eyeing the play-offs and sit in a strong position as the race for second place heats up. Anything other than a defeat in Gothenburg would be seen as a major bonus, as Ireland’s fate will undoubtedly boil down to a decisive double-header against group rivals Finland and Slovakia in September.

Still, stopping Sweden would certainly be nice.

And all the nicer after the release of their stats and tactics-filled, borderline arrogant kit.

If the Girls In Green are to stop Sweden, they’ll have to stop Stina Blackstenius.

The Arsenal star is one of the best in the world at the minute; a proven goal-scorer and creative attacking player who causes countless issues for any defence she comes up against.

It was her effort that Louise Quinn unfortunately deflected into the net when Sweden emerged 1-0 winners at Tallaght Stadium earlier in the campaign.

But Ireland have the inside track on Blackstenius, a team-mate of Katie McCabe’s at the Gunners and an opponent of so many in the Women’s Super League.

Birmingham City captain Quinn is certainly no stranger to her brilliance.

“Ah, she took a shot that was off target and it hit me. That was it,” she laughs, reflecting on October’s goal.

“No, of course, she’s class, and I would have played against her years ago in Sweden as well. Obviously she was a lot younger and everyone was like, ‘She’s gonna be a big player for Sweden one day’. Definitely, you can see it.

“She’s so powerful, extremely fast. But being able to play against her, you do just learn little things. You learn what they’re extremely good at and you then have to know how to try and rule that out.

“Listen, it helps that Katie plays with her. Any extra little pockets of something that you can pick up and take, that’ll be something I’ll be looking at. You have your battle against their 11, but I definitely try to have little individual battles and make it a one-v-one that I want to win. And if you don’t win one of them, make sure you go and win the next one.”

Blackstentius is a dream to play with, but a nightmare to face, no doubt, for McCabe.

The 26-year-old was a “breath of fresh air” for Arsenal after signing in January, the Ireland captain explained.

“The level she brings is incredible. I think her and Viv Miedema complement each other; Stina loves to stretch the line with her forward runs, and Viv picks up those spaces that she creates. Obviously it’s been great playing with her, I’ll obviously park that aside now. I guess she’ll be the enemy!

“But no look, I’ve gotten along really well with Stina since she’s come in. I think she’s taken the league in her stride, she’s started really well and she’s a real key player for us at Arsenal. I know she’s going to be a real key player for Sweden as well, so it’ll be up to us to try stop her on the night.”

Denise O’Sullivan, meanwhile, has watched her closely in Champions League action, and echoes Quinn and McCabe’s sentiments.

“She’s a class player, her movement is so good, and she’s so intelligent, a football brain, so she’ll be a tough player to deal with against Sweden. But we have players in the back and all over the pitch who are well capable of taking care of her, I think.

kt McCabe and Blackstenius play together at Arsenal. Arsenal FC. Arsenal FC.

“And obviously, Katie training day in and day out will know a bit more about her and be able to deal with her better. She’s a world-class player and she’s not the only one who’s a world-class player on that Sweden team. Every single one of them are world-class players, so it’s going to be a huge challenge for us, but it’s something I’m really excited for — they’re the games you want to be playing, against the world’s best.”

O’Sullivan said it best: they’re all world-class players. Star Chelsea defender Magdalena Eriksson, Barcelona ace Fridolina Rolfo and Europe’s most-capped player Caroline Seger are some of the other biggest names in Peter Gerhardsson’s ranks, but it’s certainly not a straightforward case of keeping one or two standout players quiet.

As Quinn points out, one big strength is they can play any which way, adapting to any tactics with no set game plan in place. That, too, can be an issue through, or something for opponents to pounce on.

The Irish defensive stalwart, who played her club football in Sweden for three years with Eskilstuna United, explains: 

“It’s a fairly different set-up. They are extremely, extremely organised, which massively works in their favour but if you can disrupt that, it’s then about how can they adapt to it? And obviously, they definitely have adapted at times.

“They take what you give them, but if we can catch them on one of those days, where they’re actually just not able to sort it out, and we can create a couple of chances from it, that will be something that we’ll have to look at.

“Can we take away as many of their threats as possible? If there’s a real distinct kind of threat, because obviously, they’re going to be trying to find Caroline Seger in the middle to ping wide and switch along the back lines. They’re good at crosses into the box, they’re good on the edge of the box.

“For us, it’s a different game, but I think maybe physicality and the pace of the game is sometimes what can get them as well. We’ll definitely be able to bring that physicality and it’s just about trying to keep that going for 90 minutes.”

A result is “really, really possible,” Quinn assures.

The Swedes may be confident, but Ireland are too.


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