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France beats Sweden 2-1 to reach women's Olympic football semifinals

08/03/2012 08:58 EDT | Updated 10/03/2012 05:12 EDT
GLASGOW, Scotland - France needed two defenders to give the team an attacking spark — and a place in the Olympic semifinals.

Defenders Laura Georges and Wendie Renard provided the goals for France on Friday as it beat Sweden 2-1 in the quarterfinals of the women's football competition, matching its best campaign in a major tournament.

Sweden went ahead through captain Nilla Fischer in the 18th minute after the ball bounced off her shoulder following a corner kick, but Georges equalized with a header in the 29th and Renard netted the winner with a close-range shot in the 39th.

France came into the match at Hampden Park level with the United States as the top-scoring team in the tournament with eight goals scored.

"We showed today how dangerous our defenders can be on set pieces, this team is not only about our attackers," Georges said. "We were able to score even against big and strong defenders like the Swedes have."

France coach Bruno Bini said he couldn't have asked for more from his defenders.

"We played a creative match, it was perfect," he said. "At corners we scared the Swedish defence with Wendie and Laura really strong there. We didn't buckle against a really strong team."

Goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi also was crucial for the win, making a point-blank save in the 72nd to keep the French ahead. She dived to her right and just barely tipped Fischer's close-range shot wide.

"Sarah made a great save at just the right moment that allowed us to continue into the semifinals," Bini said. "A goalkeeper can lose you a match, but there are very few that can win you a match."

France, which also reached the semifinals of last year's World Cup and is making its Olympic debut, will play either Brazil or defending World Cup champion Japan, who will play later on Friday in Cardiff, Wales.

Sweden also made it to the semifinals of last year's World Cup, eventually beating France 2-1 in the third-place match.

"It feels empty," Sweden defender Annica Svensson said after Friday's match. "We played a good game and I don't think that France played a better game than us. That feels kind of disappointing."

The Swedes took the lead in a match where both sides struggled to keep possession but created many scoring opportunities.

Fischer went to meet a corner and the ball bounced off her left shoulder as she looked away, going straight into Bouhaddi's left upper corner.

The French equalized after a well-executed corner kick by Louisa Necib. Her shot curled dangerously toward the goal and Sweden goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl had to step back to stop it from going in. She tipped the ball away from the net but it went to Georges for an easy header into the far corner.

France's go-ahead goal came after a long free kick from the right side. Georges headed the ball across the area and Renard scored with a firm shot from close range.

"We took advantage of the chances we had when we could go forward and help the offence," Renard said.

Necib, who controlled the match for the French in midfield, had a 22nd-minute goal disallowed for offside. The French complained because it appeared the ball came off a defender, which would have allowed the goal to stand.

Sweden defender Linda Sembrant had some of the best chances for Sweden and her header from a corner in the 53rd just missed wide of the far post.

France's semifinal appearance in last year's World Cup in Germany marked one of the team's top achievements in women's football. France eliminated England on penalties in the quarterfinals before losing 3-1 to the United States in the semis.

The Swedes have always been a top contender in women's football but their last major triumph dates back to the 1984 European Championship.

Hampden Park had a crowd of just less than 13,000 for its final Olympic match on a rainy afternoon in Glasgow.

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Follow Tales Azzoni at http://twitter.com/tazzoni

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