Sweden’s Sweet Success vs the USA, Fridolina Rolfö’s Impact. Nice guys finish last, or at least that’s how the saying goes. But in the case of your national football team making it to penalties in a World Cup knockout stage, nobody wants to be the nice guy taking a penalty last. And that was exactly Sweden’s situation.
In a round of 16 matchup that saw over 1 million YouTube “match highlight” views in less than 24 hours, team Sweden (including Barcelona’s own Fridolina Rolfö) vowed to shock the world. And not after 90 minutes of regulation, nor even after 120+ minutes of overtime, but in a thrilling back and forth 4-5 penalty shootout that’s exactly what they did. A modern day Goliath was swept off his feet by Sverige.
Head Coach Peter Gerhardsson had the same look of hope in his eyes, unwavering from Sweden’s semi-final loss vs England in the UEFA Women’s EURO 2022. Ranked #3 in the world by FIFA, the blue and yellow dominated their group stage by winning all three matches and placing first amongst Italy, South Africa, and Argentina. Yet, rankings in this tournament have been anything but helpful, with 2-time World Cup winners Germany not advancing to the elimination round and the #1 ranked, 4-time champions USA tying both budding Portugal and the Netherlands.
Sweden, a team led by bright blondes and a mixture of experience and fresh faces, most recently claimed silver in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Although World Cup gold would add a nice tint to their flag and a shining star on their jerseys. Luckily, FC Barcelona fans have a good reason to support team Sweden, as fullback Fridolina Rolfö is one of our own. Endearingly known as “MILF” (Man I Love Fridolina), Rolfö joined the Catalan side in 2021 from German powerhouse VfL Wolfsburg, instantly becoming a hit on and off the field. An effective and efficient wing-back, Rolfö’s style of play makes her adaptable to almost any playbook and an attacking threat even from far away.
This season, Fridolina accumulated 19 starts with 8 goals, 8 assists, and her most iconic goal contribution came in the form of winning the UEFA Women’s Champions League Final (versus her old team)! Poetic football justice, if we may say. Rolfö’s short ponytail and social media handles are easily flowed and followed, as she most recently signed a contract extension until 2026 as a Culer. Only 29 years young, Rolfö has been making appearances with the Swedish national team since 2014. Historically, Sweden has always been a stronger women’s side, unluckily with no World Cup trophy and one European Champion title (back in 1984) to show for it.
But this is the 21st century, and times are changing. The match start time already fooled the American audience, as they were expected to win their Group and play on primetime evening television on Saturday, August 5th. But due to mediocre results and minimal effort, the United States faltered behind Group winner Netherlands and the bracket had them resenting Rolfö and co in the early morning hours of Sunday, August 6th. Our favorite “MILF” started for Sweden and galloped like a graceful gazelle for 90 minutes. Even though her knee is slightly injured and she was playing with bandages, Rolfö did not give up. In a match that saw a prominent firing squad from the red, white, and blue, Sweden goalkeeper Zecira Mušović (Chelsea FC) kept her squad bouncing back with a record-breaking eleven saves. Sweden saw their chances, although nobody from any side could capitalize. Long after the locals had gone to bed, Sweden and the US would have to settle their score in a penalty shootout.
Tale as old as time. Can get uglier than rhyme. 50/50 are the mathematical odds shooting and saving a penalty shot, although history can be cruel. Rolfö was selected to shoot for Sweden first, showing off her calm, cool, and composure by aiming into the right hand side of the net where American keeper Alyssa Naeher could not reach. Triumphant and trailblazing, but most prominently smiling, her penalty set the scene for an inevitable Sweden 4-5 win. As ABBA once said “The Winner Takes it All.” And in that moment, we were all Swedish. The victory showed that not only did the reigning world champions thrash their own throne, but more importantly that the world is here to play, and play hard. Sweden will face Japan in a quarter-final clash for the ages, make sure to tune in on Friday, August 11th. Heja Sverige.