Granqvist will be key man as Swedes try to derail England
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Ahead of England’s big match against Sweden at the World Cup, David Freezer caught up with a Norfolk-raised footballer who will have a unique view of the quarter-final
It’s been impossible to avoid ‘it’s coming home’ comments and chants throughout the joy of England finally enjoying some World Cup success – but Sweden have very different ideas.
The team which stand between the Three Lions and a first World Cup semi-final since 1990 will go into Saturday’s big game in Russia with nowhere near as much hope and expectation on their shoulders.
That’s the view of a professional player with a foot in both camps, Norfolk-raised Eskilstuna United defender Vaila Barsley.
“Sweden went into the whole process of the tournament with no expectations and going through to the play-offs against Italy, to win and qualify was absolutely huge for them, so to even make the World Cup was massive,” said Barsley.
“Then with the draw putting them in a group with Mexico, Germany and South Korea they thought they were never going to get out of the group, so to win the group was huge.
“So it’s very much a happy-go-lucky atmosphere, unlike England they have no real expectations on them so everyone is just buzzing with every kind of positive result that they get.
“Wednesday was so much fun, everyone was walking around in their Sweden jerseys with yellow crazy hats, and when they won the night before people were jumping in the water in the fountain in town, so it’s been a really good atmosphere.”
The Scotland international was raised in Hemsby and went to Flegg High School in Martham, before going on to make it as a professional.
Barsley represented England at under-15 level and played locally for Stalham and Lowestoft, and was also part of the Norwich City Girls’ Centre of Excellence.
She moved to Eskilstuna in 2013 and won six caps for Scotland last year, making two appearances at the Uefa Women’s European Championship in the Netherlands last August, where the Scots finished in the group stages.
The city, around an hour’s drive west of Stockholm, has a population of around 100,000 and is gearing up for a party as their team continue the pursuit of a first World Cup final since their 1958 defeat to Brazil.
Key to that is likely to be skipper Andreas Granqvist, who has scored two penalties so far for the Swedes.
“Graqvist is the rock, he wears that shirt as if his life depends on it,” continued Barsley, a defender herself. “A proper out-and-out captain, maybe not the best player but he does everything for the team.
“Mikael Lustig, the right-back who plays for Celtic, he actually got his second yellow so he can’t play and he’s been huge for them, so that’s a shame.
“But Sebastian Larsson (former Sunderland midfielder) will be back from his ban, so he’ll be really important. I don’t think Sweden have been that good going forward though, it’s about their defensive players who are the most important.
“I think Victor Lindelof has been really good as well. I’ve watched him for Manchester United but for Sweden it‘s like he’s a completely different person. He’s kind of like the playmaker at the back, to bring the ball out and start attacks, as opposed to Granqvist who is a brute.”
Barsley helped Eskilstuna earn promotion to the top flight, the Damallsvenskan, in her first season and won a runners-up medal in 2015.
“I really like the club and the city, it’s a good size. I think the standard has maybe a dropped a bit from when I first arrived and it’s basically because of a money issue,” continued Barsley, who was born in Boston, Lincolnshire, but qualifies to play for Scotland through her mother, Rosemary.
“When you look at the English league now there’s so much money with the bigger clubs like Arsenal, Manchester United now joining, Manchester City, Liverpool.
“So they’re kind of drawing the talent and quite a few good Swedish players are at Chelsea now, so it’s kind of making the league not as good as when I first came here, when (Brazil star) Marta and (USA forward) Christen Press were playing here.
“But it’s still a good league and every game you need to win if you want to do well, it’s good competition.”
The 30-year-old’s time in Sweden ensures she is in for a lively afternoon as she watches today’s quarter-final with family and friends.
And she has been pleased to see two stars of the women’s game, Alex Scott and Eni Aluko, have proved to be welcome additions to the punditry teams on British television during the tournament.
“I think Eni and Alex have done a fantastic job,” Barsley added. “They’ve really done their research and shown that women know football as well – and even done more research than some of the other pundits.
“I think it’s been fantastic and the women’s game is growing immensely all over the world. England and the FA are doing a fantastic job of it, the players that it’s attracting now are huge – I’d say it’s one of the best leagues in the world right now.”