SPORTS DESK : 30 JULY, 2023, 3:38 AM
Towering defender Amanda Ilestedt scored twice with her head to help Sweden to a 5-0 thrashing of Italy on Saturday and a berth in the Women’s World Cup last 16.
A tight contest was blown open in a seven-minute spell late in the first half when the third-ranked Swedes found the net three times, through Ilestedt, Fridolina Rolfo and Stina Blackstenius.
Arsenal centre-back Ilestedt bagged her second soon after the interval to give her three goals for the tournament — all headers from corners — including a late match-winner in their opening 2-1 defeat of South Africa.
Substitute Rebecka Blomqvist rounded out the rout in stoppage time in front of nearly 30,000 in Wellington.
The Swedes are assured of finishing in the top two of Group G, becoming the third team to book a place in the knockout stage after Spain and Japan.
It was a flexing of the muscles from one of the tournament favourites, who have a history of near-misses at the World Cup.
Their set-piece prowess was on full show, with three of the goals coming from left-footed inswinging corners delivered by Jonna Andersson.
Sixteenth-ranked Italy had no answer to the aerial threat of Ilestedt in particular and went to halftime shellshocked after enjoying the better of the early stages.
Having opened the tournament with a 1-0 win over Argentina, Italy’s tournament will be over if they lose their final group match against South Africa on Wednesday.
South Africa and Argentina secured their first point with a 2-2 draw on Friday.
Italy actually started brightly, with Sweden goalkeeper Zecira Musovic tested by two sharp early strikes from Sofia Cantore, the only change to Italy’s starting side.
However, the Swedes began to gel and the floodgates opened in the 39th minute when the 1.78-metre Ilestedt leapt to glance home Andersson’s pinpoint corner.
Barcelona star Rolfo, who was a doubt for the game with a knee niggle, bagged her second goal of the tournament when Italy couldn’t clear from another corner.
Arsenal striker Blackstenius made it three in first-half stoppage time when she stabbed home after Johanna Kaneryd’s cross wasn’t cleared.
Le Azzure’s defence was beaten again by a leaping Ilestedt five minutes after the break.
As Italy wilted, Blomqvist went through on goal one on one for number five.
Sweden, who have now qualified for the knockout phase in eight of nine World Cup appearances, will play their final group game against Argentina in Hamilton on Wednesday.
Coach Peter Gerhardsson may consider changes after fielding the same starting side in both games. -BSS
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