After Sweden’s 2-1 win over Japan in its World Cup quarterfinal, a journalist asked Amanda Ilestedt when she would ask her coach to move her up the field to play as a striker. The Swedish center back laughed and said, “I already did (move up the field).”
Ilestedt currently leads Sweden in goals scored (four) and is one of four players tied for second place in the tournament’s golden boot race. The reasoning is quite simple, Sweden effectively uses its set piece opportunities and Ilestedt is in the right place at the right time.
“Set pieces are very important. Amanda is very good there. (She) can score goals in different ways,” Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson said. “Old fruits in trees when they fall down, you have to pick them up. That’s what we did in the last game (scoring goals from the set pieces).”
All but one of Ilestedt’s goals have come from headed corner kicks. The goal Gerhardsson referred to as “old fruits in trees” falling down was the one against Japan. Kosovare Asllani sent a free kick into the box and Nathalie Björn and Magdalena Eriksson both attempted shots, but it was Ilestedt who cleaned up from close range.
SWEDEN STRIKES FIRST!
The Blue and Yellow take the lead thanks to Amanda Ilestedt 🇸🇪 pic.twitter.com/ka27BqTgui
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) August 11, 2023
With a semifinal against Spain beckoning, Sweden looks to reach its sixth major tournament final. They haven’t made a final of the World Cup since 2003, when they lost to Germany, but they have a great chance this time around. First, Sweden must get through Spain on Tuesday at Eden Park in Tāmaki Makaurau Auckland, though.
If they want to use their strength, Ilestedt will be crucial. Along with her goals, her partnership with Eriksson in the center of Sweden’s defense has helped them progress throughout the tournament — including beating the U.S.
A golden boot contender
Sweden’s set piece success is no secret.
Against Japan, Sweden profited twice from set pieces. The first was a close-range goal from Ilestedt. The second came from a converted penalty after a handball by Fuka Nagano during another corner kick for Sweden. But with that goal, Ilestedt’s teammates are now confident she’s demonstrated everything needed to be the tournament’s top scorer.
“I also want to score some goals, but if you have Ilestedt then I’m like, ‘OK, she can score, it’s fine,’” Björn said with a laugh. “I think she can (win the golden boot) now that she showed she can shoot, as well. ”
Amanda Ilestedt wants that golden boot! 🤩⚽️pic.twitter.com/JhGxWxNcaU
— Barclays Women’s Super League (@BarclaysWSL) August 10, 2023
Sweden has mostly used in-swinging set pieces throughout the tournament. They have varied on occasion with out-swinging deliveries, but putting a ball directly in front of the goal has proven to be more successful for the team. It gives players like Ilestedt the chance to get on the ball and not have to generate too much power to turn it goalward.
“I think set pieces are one of our biggest strengths, it’s something we work on. Amanda is amazing but we have so many players that are really good in the area,” Asllani said. “In the end, I don’t think anyone cares who’s the leading goal scorer, the only thing we’re thinking about is winning games.”
Amanda Ilestedt is the only remaining player in the Top 5 #FIFAWWC Golden Boot race. ⚽️
Will she pass Hinata Miyazawa? 👀 pic.twitter.com/KOYfpp5RkJ
— Attacking Third (@AttackingThird) August 13, 2023
As seen with her previous goals before Japan, all Ilestedt had to do was redirect the ball when it came to her. She didn’t have to try to angle it in a certain way. The power and direction came due to the set piece delivery, which both Asllani and Jonna Andersson have been very good at throughout the tournament.
“I don’t think so many people were expecting her to be the one with the most goals for our team but she’s an amazing player and she really deserves this,” said Fridolina Rolfö. “We all know how good she is at heading the ball. As (Asllani) said, set pieces are one of our strengths so I’m not surprised but at the same time, I’m happy for her because she’s an amazing player”
Kosovare Asllani, the anti-captain who became Sweden’s leader
Partnership with Magda Eriksson in central defense
When we talk about Ilestedt, we can’t do so without focusing on her primary job: being a defender. Sweden has conceded two goals so far this tournament, which shows just how strong they have been defensively.
Against the U.S., Sweden struggled to maintain possession and avoid pressure. Goalkeeper Zećira Mušović produced some incredible saves to keep the score at 0-0, but the communication between the two center backs also helped Sweden see out the game.
“Amanda and I like to talk to each other,” Eriksson said. “It was impressive against the U.S. that we managed to maintain the dialogue despite the pressure.”
It was needed again against Japan as Sweden faced an onslaught late in the second half. Similar to the match against the U.S., Ilestedt and Eriksson did just enough to keep Japan from finding the tying goal.
Whether they are in a back three or a back four, the two center backs continue to be key for what Sweden has done right in this tournament so far. Eriksson tends to progress the ball more when Sweden is in possession but that doesn’t mean that Ilestedt isn’t capable of finding the right pass, either. In the first half against Japan, Ilestedt’s understanding of when to move or which lane to step into to cut out the passing lines was part of what Sweden did right. When she had the ball at her feet, she was also able to make the right decision and continue to recycle possession.
Eriksson and Ilestedt have been targets for all of Sweden’s set pieces. And though the former has yet to score, Ilestedt has done it enough for the both of them. She’s already matched Wendie Renard’s World Cup record for most goals by a defender at a single World Cup. She will be someone that Spain has to mark tightly. If they don’t, Ilestedt could become the first defender at a World Cup to win the golden boot award.
(Photo by Jan Kruger/Getty Images)