- Hedvig Lindahl was recently voted the world’s top female keeper
- Sweden No1 is preparing for her fifth Women’s World Cup
- She shared her mixed memories of the tournament and hopes for 2019
She is 35 and approaching her fifth FIFA Women’s World Cup™. But there are no signs of Hedvig Lindahl’s powers diminishing.
Many still consider her the best goalkeeper in the world, and this status that received official validation recently when thousands of her peers voted the Sweden and Chelsea No1 into FIFPro’s first-ever Women’s World XI.
"In terms of my knowledge of the game and decision-making, I definitely feel I'm the best I've ever been,” Lindahl told FIFA.com. “I am getting older and that has its challenges. It’s true that sometimes it's a case of trying to convince yourself you can still do the same things you used to in your physical prime. But I definitely feel that I've never played as calmly, or seen things as clearly on the pitch, as I do now."
And yet, while Lindahl has won over 150 caps for Sweden and collected two World Cup medals, her journey in the global finals has not been without turbulence. So, as she looked forward to France 2019 – her fifth and final World Cup – it gave her a chance to reflect on lessons learned since 2003.
Lindahl, 20, watched from the bench as Sweden marched all the way to the final, losing out on the trophy to a German Golden Goal in extra time
"I remember naively thinking: 'This must be the way it's always going to be.' That we would always have success like that, come home and be greeted into Swedish airspace by the airforce. I assumed that was just normal, which I now know it definitely wasn't! But what I learned most at that tournament was standards. I got used to a group that produced really high-level performances and demanded a lot from themselves and everyone else around them. That was a team that simply was not satisfied with anything less than world-class."
Having arrived dreaming of the title, Sweden crashed out at the group stage, with Lindahl blamed for a critical defeat to USA
"That was my first World Cup actually playing and I learned so much. I remember getting a foot injury during our game against USA and thinking, 'I'll keep going'. But I made a mistake and then had to face the press, so it was tough. I realised later that I really shouldn't have kept playing as my foot was bothering me and restricting my performance. I'd also torn my ACL that January and rushed back to play, which in hindsight probably wasn't the best call. It's tough though because World Cups are even more important in women's football than in the men's game. Women’s club football is improving all the time but we've never had the exposure through that that male players get, so World Cups, EUROs and Olympics are absolutely huge for us. You never want to miss out on playing in one."
Outstanding in Sweden’s run to the semi-finals, Lindahl slipped up against Japan and again found herself in the media spotlight
"I played really well in most of the games there, especially the biggest games. I definitely felt like I'd played a major part in ensuring we made it as far as we did. But while 2011 brings back mostly good memories for me, there were also some very tough moments after the loss to Japan in the semi-finals. Everything was put on my shoulders for that defeat - there was a lot of scrutiny - and I remember having a proper breakdown in the lunch room before playing the third-place match. Fortunately I went on to play well and we won the bronze, and I was proud that I was able to recover emotionally to help the team achieve something. Honestly, I would love to enjoy a tournament where I don't have to come past something like that - have a World Cup like Mbappe's, say. But there are often tough moments for keepers and dealing with those and getting past them is so important."
This edition was a major disappointment for the Swedes as they bowed out in the last 16 with a demoralising 4-1 defeat to Germany
"We just weren't consistent. I remember we drew 2-2 with Nigeria in the opening game after being 2-0 up at half-time, and that kind of set the tone. It definitely wasn't all bad. We drew 0-0 with USA after that, played really well and should maybe have won. But we drew again against Australia, just squeezed through and then lost badly to Germany in the last 16. It was a very low moment and it took the Olympics (Sweden reaching the final in 2016) to bring us back from that. What we did in Rio showed that we are still a force in women's football."
Fifth time lucky? Lindahl believes Sweden, who conceded just twice in qualifying, are genuine title contenders
"This will most definitely be my last World Cup. Someone will throw me out head-first if I try to go for another one! And for that reason I'm really going to aim high and go for the gold, definitely. I want to enjoy every minute and to leave knowing that we've done something special. There has never been a gold medal in Swedish football history, so why not this time? I think we have a lot of talent in the team right now and a nice mix of older players, youngsters and ones in the middle. I have really high expectations for us and for the World Cup generally, which I expect to be bigger and better than ever.”