European giants Sweden beat South Africa, as late drama puts them top of Group G with Argentina an Italy still to play.
Sweden, ranked 3rd in the world, demonstrated early dominance against the 54th seed South Africa. As expected, it was Sweden controlling possession in the opening ten minutes, however it was to no prevail as the South African defence soaked up the pressure to work the first half chance of the game.
Hildah Magaia nearly settled any nerves the 'Banyana Banyana' might of been trying to shake off, however her left footed volley was sliced over the Sweden net. Sweden had to remain on their toes and aware to the fast paced press of forward Thembi Kgatlana, the strikers work rate was key in the early stages of the game to force the Swedish midfield and backline into a numerous amount of missed placed passes.
With no clear cut chances for either side, it was South Africa who were left satisfied as Sweden gradually seemed to become more frustrated with the lack of quality they showed in the final third.
The 25th minute highlighted an impressive statistic, as Sweden remained in control of the ball with a significant 75 percent possession, but again it was Kgatlana running the show with a mazy dribble that ended in an unconvincing strike towards goal. The seconds and minutes of the first half continued to fade away and there was still nothing to show, as both sides were sloppy in their decision making. Sweden's biggest threat seemed to be Jonna Anderssons looping corners from the right hand side, Anderrsons deliveries caused mayhem almost every time in the South African box and eventually centre back Amanda IIestedt went close with a header.
Watching the goal mouth scrambles was probably the most exciting part of the first 45 minutes, which had four minutes added on, due to an earlier VAR check for a possible South African hand ball.
To conclude what was a dull first half for Sweden, it was definitely South Africa who went into half time as the happier team, they conveyed great energy and tenacity to upset Sweden's tempo- who were maybe struggling with the drizzly conditions at the Westpac Stadium located in Wellington New Zealand.
The second half got off to an electric start. Once more Sweden were asleep to Kgatlana, her pace was enough to work a yard of space inside the 18-yard box for a shot which was parried by goalkeeper Zecira Musovic into the path of Magaia who tumbled the ball across the line to score what is only South Africa's second goal ever at a World Cup. 50 minutes had been played and the score was Sweden 0 South Africa 1, a scoreline which came as a shock but was nothing more than the 'Banyana Banyana' deserved.
Unlike the first half, Sweden were not seeing much of the ball. South Africa again were holding firm at the back and weren't allowing any shots on goal. Passes were skidding away off the wet fast turf and South Africa's deep block was something Sweden just didn't have the answers for. Sweden were guilty of taking too many touches, which was slowing down their progression up the pitch and with an hour played were running out of ideas.
Despite this lack of creativity Sweden stuck in there and their resilience paid off when a dangerous cross was turned into South Africa's own net by defender Lebohang Ramalepe. A devastating blow to all their hard work, but a touch of fortune for Sweden who needed something to change the picture of the game.
With 20 minutes left on the clock it was Sweden coming forward, South Africa were sticking to their game plan, getting numbers behind the ball and making it hard for Sweden to break them down. The pressure was present and whilst Sweden were pushing for a win, it seemed South Africa were playing for a draw- a result which would still be of great value to their world cup journey.
Sweden attacked for the remainder of the game and with time nearly up were presented with once last roll of the dice from a corner kick. Sweden were showing signs of benefiting of off corners through the match, and in the 90th minute of the game it was IIestedt who headed home to crush South African hearts. IIestedt rose above all and got the contact she needed to secure all three points for her side.
For Sweden the performance could have been a lot better, but they will regroup and take the three points to top Group G. As for South Africa, they must hold their heads high, they're certainly a team to keep an eye on, the chemistry and energy they displayed troubled Sweden- so don't count them out of the competition yet!