Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson has had to deal with a laundry list of issues in the run-up to the Women’s World Cup with skipper Caroline Seger, Fridolina Rolfo, Amanda Ilestedt, Lina Hurtig and Kosovare Asllani all struggling for fitness recently.
Star forward Rolfo says she’s still troubled by a knee issue, while captain Seger has barely played since April due to persistent calf problem.
On top of that, right-back Hanna Lundkvist suffered an ankle injury in the final warm-up that will see her miss the tournament.
South Africa are in far better shape and have reported no fresh injury concerns with marque player Thembi Kgatlana back to full fitness after an Achilles injury.
Sweden to win & under 3.5 goals @ 5/6
Sweden are 1/16 to open their World Cup campaign with a win and a positive start is a must with tougher group fixtures against Italy and Argentina on the horizon.
Even with all their injury doubts, there’s enough strength in depth in Gerhardsson’s squad to avoid a major upset but recent results suggest it may not be a walkover.
Since losing 4-0 to England in the semi-finals of last summer’s European Championship, Sweden have won three of their last eight matches, failing to record a victory in their three pre-World Cup warm-up games. They’ve also drawn a blank in three of their last five games.
The Swedes should end their current winless run at the Sky Stadium against a South Africa side that lost all three of their group games in their last World Cup appearance in 2019, scoring one goal.
However, that was Banyana Banyana’s maiden appearance at the global showpiece and they’ve improved dramatically since then, qualifying for this year’s edition by winning their first women’s AFCON title.
Under coach Desiree Ellis, South Africa have changed their style of play, trying to make them a more solid unit defensively that prefers to play on the counter-attack.
Those looking at South Africa’s results will question whether Ellis has been successful given a 5-0 loss to Botswana in their penultimate warm-up game but that came amid a pay dispute with the World Cup squad, who sat out that clash.
After the dispute was resolved, they comfortably beat Costa Rica 2-0 in their last warm-up outing in a more accurate reflection of the team’s potential and they can keep the scoreline respectable against an out-of-sorts Sweden.
Any player to take a penalty #PickYourPunt @ 11/8
The opening games at the World Cup have featured a high proportion of penalties with seven awarded in the first eight games alone.
With four of those penalties having been missed, it might be wise to take the shorter odds on a spot kick just being awarded, rather than one being converted.
South Africa conceded two penalties in their previous World Cup appearance, while two of their six matches at the women’s AFCON last year featured spot kicks.
Sweden won one penalty in three group matches in France in 2019 and will hope to get another chance from the spot in a game they are expected to dominate.