Arsenal’s Stina Blackstenius, Alessia Russo and Leah Williamson divided as Lionesses face Sweden in Euro qualifiers

The only thing harder than getting to the top is staying there.

The Lionesses are about to embark on their journey to defend their historic Euro 2022 title – and they are certainly not comfortable with things.


The Lionesses are ready to defend their hard-earned titleCredit: Getty

They face an unusually tough Euro qualifier against Sweden, France and the Republic of Ireland in a bid to secure a place at Euro 2025.

Always a wise voice for the Lionesses, Sarina Wiegman insists this is exactly what they wanted.

She told talkSPORT: “We wanted more competitive matches, and with the Nations League we got that.

“We had a few games before this where we knew before the game we were going to win. Well, that’s not what sport is, is it?”

Wiegman’s side’s return to Wembley comes almost exactly a year to the day since their spectacular Finalissima triumph over Brazil.

Since then, England have won a painful World Cup silver medal and missed out on Olympic qualification for the British team.

But the signs are positive for the Lionesses, who have moved up two places in the latest FIFA rankings, placing them second behind world champions Spain.

Their title defense begins with their first qualifying match against formidable Swedish opponents on Friday April 5, live on talkSPORT 2.

Sweden knocked out USA after Lina Hurtig's penalty was controlled by goal-line technology


Sweden knocked out USA after Lina Hurtig’s penalty was controlled by goal-line technologyCredit: Getty
They will be formidable opponents even for a strong Lionesses team.


They will be formidable opponents even for a strong Lionesses team.Credit: GETTY

Sweden’s most notable feat in recent months was arguably the 2023 World Cup match, which saw them knock reigning champions the United States out of the tournament after a penalty shootout relentless.

Sweden may have dropped a place to sixth in the table, but this is a team that has reached at least the quarter-finals of every European Championship since 1993.

They won the first Women’s Euro in 1984 and have since won three silver medals.

But the frustration of finishing second on numerous occasions will fuel the Swedes. This time, their objective will simply be to dethrone the Lionesses.

Arsenal divided: the Swedish threat

When Sweden take on the Lionesses, the starting line-up will likely look more than familiar to fans of English football.

In total, nine members of the Swedish squad heading to Wembley currently play in the WSL.

Some of the best-known names are Chelsea duo Zecira Musovic and Johanna Rytting Kaneryd, Everton youngster Hannah Bennison and Manchester City’s Filippa Angeldahl.

From Arsenal teammates...


From Arsenal teammates…Credit: AFP international rivals


…to international rivalsCredit: GETTY

Barcelona Lionesses duo Lucy Bronze and Keira Walsh will also face a very familiar face.

Their club teammate Fridolina Rolfo is in good form, a striker who has won the championship in three countries and clinched a Champions League title.

But the name that will probably worry Lionesses fans the most is Stina Blackstenius.

Her English club teammates Alessia Russo, Leah Williamson, Beth Mead and Lotte Wubben-Moy will not be happy to have the Arsenal striker in the away team.

Blackstenius scored the winner in this year’s dramatic Conti Cup final, securing the Gunners a record seventh League Cup.

It was an emotional match for everyone involved, after Arsenal midfielder Frida Maanum fell on the ball just before the end of normal time.

Doctors rushed to attend to Maanum who needed oxygen and was taken away on a stretcher.

Arsenal have since confirmed that she is recovering well, but after the match teammate Russo spoke about how fitting it was that it was Blackstenius who won the match for the team.

Williamson could be tasked with defending Blackstenius if she is fit to play


Williamson could be tasked with defending Blackstenius if she is fit to playCredit: Getty
The Swede has 41 goals for Arsenal and 31 international goals


The Swede has 41 goals for Arsenal and 31 international goalsCredit: Getty Images-Getty

She told talkSPORT: “It was good too, Stina is also Frida’s best friend so that was good too. She had an incredible tournament this run and it was almost written in the stars for her.”

But perhaps the game that best encapsulates Blackstenius’ brilliance came last month, in Arsenal’s Conti Cup semi-final against Aston Villa.

The striker needed just 31 minutes to find the net three times: a long-range strike, a short-range drive into the top of the net and a well-placed header, just in case someone one would worry about its reach.

Along with Maanum’s outstanding strike from the edge of the box, it meant Arsenal led 4-0 before the break thanks to a performance that epitomized their brilliance.

But this season has shown that when Blackstenius is at his best, Arsenal are at their best.

Unfortunately for England, the same goes for Sweden.

The last time

Remember Alessia Russo’s absolutely scandalous goal in the Euro 2022 semi-final?

Can Alessia Russo find another moment of magic like this?


Can Alessia Russo find another moment of magic like this?Credit: Getty
England somehow dismantled a strong Swedish team last time


England somehow dismantled a strong Swedish team last timeCredit: Getty

The goal was one of four England scored against Sweden when these two teams last met.

Beth Mead, Lucy Bronze and Fran Kirby all joined Russo on the scoresheet as the Lionesses advanced to a Euro final that would see them make history.

But the score did not fully reflect the difficulties encountered by Sweden, particularly during the first quarter of the match.

And out of the seven meetings that the two countries have played, it is Sweden which has won with four victories.

It’s a tough matchup, but like Wiegman, it’s exactly what the Lionesses want.

Speaking about the group’s potential difficulties, defender Lucy Bronze told talkSPORT: “For me, I looked at the group, I was so excited! I think there are a lot of moments in qualifying where there’s no maybe doesn’t have as many competitive matches..

“But this group was the most competitive – I even told the Spanish girls (in Barcelona). I prefer to play against Sweden, France and even for us, Ireland is such a big rivalry! Every game is so important and so big., it gives us that experience advantage for next year.

She added: “It makes things more difficult, but I like a challenge.”

England v Sweden is live on talkSPORT 2 on Friday April 5 from 7:30 p.m..


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