The buzz: Sweden is the giant-killer of this tournament, having sent the U.S. and Japan packing in the knockout stages to reach the semifinals for the third time in the last four World Cups. And the third-ranked Swedes — the highest-ranked team remaining — have done it with a stifling defense and opportunistic offense.
Of the four teams remaining, only England has conceded fewer goals than Sweden, which has allowed two, and eight of its 11 scores have come off set pieces, most in the tournament. Defender Amanda Ilestedt is tied for second in the Golden Boot race with four goals, all coming off set pieces. Sweden is the only semifinalist to have played in a World Cup final, losing to Germany in 2003.
Spain, meanwhile, has overcome internal turmoil and a 4-0 loss to Japan in the group stage to reach the semifinals for the first time. Last fall 15 national team players threatened to quit the team unless coach Jorge Vilda was fired. Vilda stayed and most of the players returned but it has hardly been a happy group.
La Roja moved out of its New Zealand base camp in Palmerston North early, with the players claiming they were bored, and Spain is the only one of the final four teams that did not win its group.
Spain’s 15 goals are most among the final four, but so is its six goals conceded. Three players — Aitana Bonmatí, Jennifer Hermoso and Alba Redondo — share the team’s scoring lead with three goals apiece while Bonmatí and Hermoso each have two assists.