Saturday, June 22, 2024

Why Ireland’s WNT has a formidable opponent in Sweden

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Analysis: Ireland and Sweden were two of the pioneering teams that participated in the very first UEFA competition for women’s football

By Helena Byrne, British Library

Today the Republic of Ireland WNT take on Sweden at the Friends Arena in Solna, in the second leg in their Group A3, UEFA EURO 2025 Qualifier. The teams have played each other nine times before (two draws and nine losses) and their last meeting was just four days ago when 22,628 fans were at Aviva. But despite a number of good chances early on in the match Republic of Ireland lost 0-3. Can the Girls in Green take home a win this afternoon? It’s a tall order.

Sweden are currently ranked sixth while the Republic of Ireland are ranked twenty fifth in the FIFA Women’s World Rankings (Ireland’s other Group A3 opponents, England and France, are ranked second and third, respectively, so making it past the qualifying rounds was always going to be an uphill battle).

The Swedes were also the winners of the first UEFA European Women’s Championship title in 1984. Out of the thirteen UEFA European Championships, Sweden have qualified for eleven tournaments. They won the competition once (1984), finished second three times (1987, 1995 and 2001) and third four times (1989, 1997, 2005 and 2013).

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From FAI, Highlights from Ireland WNT 0-3 Sweden WNT at the Aviva

The Republic of Ireland and Sweden were two of the pioneering sixteen teams that participated in the very first UEFA competition for women’s football. The matches were played in 2 x 25 minutes and with a size 4 ball. The winners from the qualifying rounds of the first competition from Group One, Two, Three and Four were Sweden, England, Italy and Denmark. The two semi-finals were played on the same dates on a home and away basis like in the first stage of the competition. England were drawn against Denmark in their semi-final, while Sweden played Italy.

Out of the two semi-finals, Italy and Sweden had the largest crowds at their matches. The Italy vs Sweden match was played at the Stadio Flaminio stadium in Rome, Italy on May 8, with 5,000 people coming out to watch the match that finished 3-2 to Sweden. The second leg of the match was played on May 28, at Folkungavallen stadium in Linköping, Sweden. This time 5,162 people came out to see Sweden win 2-1. England beat Denmark in both legs, winning 3-1 on aggregate and so faced Sweden in the final.

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From AP Archive, Sweden win the first ever UEFA women’s trophy on June 20, 1984 beating England 5-4 in penalties

The final was played on a home and away basis. In the first leg, Sweden had home advantage for their match on May 12, 1984 at Ullevi where they won 1-0 in front of 5,662 fans. There was torrential rain in the lead up to the final match in England that was held on May 27, 1984 at Luton. The rain left the pitch in very bad condition but despite this, 2,565 fans attended the match. Normally, if the pitch was in this condition the match would be cancelled. But as this was the first final for a women’s UEFA competition it went ahead. One of the England players, Hope Powell said that ‘the ball kept getting stuck in the mud or pools of water and the penalty areas were very difficult’. Despite the difficult conditions, England won the match 1-0. This meant that the teams were tied across the two legs, so the winner of the first UEFA competition for women was decided after a dramatic penalty shootout which saw Sweden win 3-4.

Participating in the first UEFA competition had a positive impact on developing women’s football in Ireland. The 1983 Ladies Football Association (LFAI) AGM reported an increase in the number of affiliated clubs and leagues, and new leagues were established in Louth, Tipperary and Waterford.

Tonight’s opponents have a strong international record when it comes to women’s football. Women’s soccer was added to the Olympic Games for the first time in 1996 and the 1995 World Cup therefore played a pivotal role in the qualification process for the Olympics, with the eight quarter finalists invited to the competition. Sweden’s WNT finished sixth in the inaugural year at the Olympics and have reached the finals of the Olympics twice. They won silver at Rio 2016 and again at Tokyo 2020 (held in 2021), when they lost to Canada on penalties.

The Algarve Cup is a prestigious invitational competition hosted by the Portuguese Football Federation. It was established in 1994 and is held annually (with the exception of 2021 and 2023). Out of the twenty-six competitions held, Sweden has won it five times (1995, 2001, 2009, 2018 and 2022), finished second once (1996) and third six times (1994, 1997, 2002, 2006, 2007 and 2010).

Sweden were also the hosts for the second FIFA Women’s World Cup in 1995 and consequently became the first country to have hosted both the men’s and women’s World Cup, having hosted the men’s competition in 1958. Sweden have also competed in the group stages of all nine FIFA Women’s World Cup tournaments: their best result was second at the 2003 competition when they lost out to hosts USA. They have finished third four times in 1991, 2011, 2019 and 2023.

Read part one of our look back at the first UEFA women’s competition here.

Watch Republic of Ireland v England in Euro 2025 qualifying on Tuesday from 7pm on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player, follow a live blog on rte.ie/sport and the RTÉ News app and listen to commentary on 2fm’s Game On

Helena Byrne is a librarian that specialises in web archiving and an independent researcher focusing on the history of women’s football in Ireland. She regularly contributes history segments to FAI Women’s National Team match programmes and recently contributed to projects that celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the formation of the Republic of Ireland’s Women’s National team in 1973.

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The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of RTÉ


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