Print and Go Back News & Opinion [Print without images]

Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Hedvig Lindahl hungry for another chance

By Viv Bernstein

Confidence is hardly lacking as Sweden prepares for the FIFA Women's World Cup beginning June 26 in Germany. Coach Thomas Dennerby has boldly called this the best team Sweden has ever produced. Captain Caroline Seger agrees, pointing to the team's experience and technical skill.

The goalkeeper? Not so fast.

"I don't know," Hedvig Lindahl said in a recent telephone interview before Sweden faced England in a friendly. "I don't have an opinion on that, to be honest. What I do think is the skills we have now on the Swedish team we haven't maybe had before."

As Lindahl surely knows, it will take much more than skill for Sweden to improve on its 2007 performance, when it failed to advance from group play. Not that Lindahl dwells on 2007.

She's over it, she said.

Of course, she hasn't forgotten.

It was Lindahl who made the horrible gaffe that helped Team USA to a critical 2-0 win in group play, misplaying a U.S. free kick and allowing it to bounce over her head. It led to a penalty kick by Abby Wambach and a turning-point goal that shifted the momentum of the match.

Sweden, favored to advance to the quarterfinals along with Team USA, wound up finishing third in the group behind the Americans and Korea DPR.

Lindahl still remembers the criticism that followed.

"That night, after we played that game and I made that mistake, I read all the newspapers and took everything in -- it was a hard and tough night," said Lindahl, who had not been playing at her best after tearing an ACL in her right knee earlier in the year.

"I think it was fair. I think I should have done better in that situation. ... You should play better in the World Cup and I think I can do that now."

Four years later, Sweden is preparing to face Colombia in the World Cup on June 28 in Germany. At 28, Lindahl is a little older, a lot more comfortable in international play and confident she will be a better goalkeeper this time around.

"I've had more experiences over the last four years," she said. "I've developed my game and been a part of that group that's been playing against these best teams in the world. I felt that I've developed to a level where I can be compared to one of the best goalkeepers in the world. So I feel confident."

Dennerby hasn't committed to Lindahl as his starter yet -- he said he won't decide until shortly before the tournament -- but he doesn't doubt her physical skills. It's her focus that he questions.

"She's a goalkeeper with extreme potential because she's one of the fastest players on the team," Dennerby said. "She's explosive. She jumps very high. She has a fantastic kick of the ball and all that. If you can find anything that maybe can be a problem, it's that little bit with always playing 100 percent in focus.

"Experience is important, but you also have to perform. You can't just rely on experience. You have to be hungry."

If that is the prerequisite, then Dennerby need not worry. Although Lindahl insists she has put the past behind her, Seger believes that mistake against Team USA still weighs on her.

"I talked to Hedvig after that, and she learned a lot," Seger said. "I think it's motivating her. ... I think she is very hungry for this World Cup and to prove to everyone that they were wrong in '07. She wants to show everyone she's a world-class player."

Everyone including Wambach -- the one player Lindahl considers the greatest measure of her own development. It was Wambach who scored both goals for Team USA in that 2007 World Cup match, including a highlight-reel score off a long pass from Kristine Lilly in the second half. Wambach bounced the ball off of her chest, let it drop to the ground and left-footed the ball past Lindahl to seal the victory.

But Sweden has played the U.S. national team more than a few times since that match, enough for Lindahl to finally gain confidence against Wambach.

"It might have been '09," Lindahl said. "We met the U.S. team in the northern part of Sweden. I think it was only a practice game, and we lost. Myself, I had a couple of duels with Abby Wambach in the penalty box. I felt, I have the capacity to take on Abby Wambach out here. And that tells me something.

"If you can win against Abby, you're a very good goalkeeper."

Lindahl will need that mindset, because Wambach and Team USA will once again stand in Sweden's way. The teams are together again in Group C of the World Cup along with Korea DPR and Colombia. It is almost the same group as 2007, with Colombia replacing Nigeria this time. After opening against Colombia and facing North Korea on July 2, Sweden will face Team USA on July 6.

"It's fine," Lindahl said. "I think it doesn't really matter so much what teams we're playing in the group stage. I'm thinking if you're going to go far in the World Cup, you have to beat every team. When we play at our best, we can beat every team, I think."

As long as they don't beat themselves.