BRISBANE, Australia -- Being the second best at something in the world should be a great source of pride and yet, the immediate reaction to a silver medal is usually of disappointment, of a sinking "what if?" Yet, a bronze medal is a medal won, not one lost, it's redemption and finding victory after defeat.
The contrasting emotions -- and mounting bling -- is something Sweden is well used to by now. After the Olympic final two summers ago, Kosovare Asllani's reaction to her silver medal wasn't of the same elation the team had shown four years previously when bested by Germany in the final in Rio.
In Brazil in 2016, it had been about the grit and grind, of defying the odds to make the final, their inclusion in the gold medal game, an achievement in itself: On the podium, there were tears of joy. At the Women's World Cup in 2019, Sweden had rallied from an extra-time winner from Jackie Groenen in their semifinal to fire out of the blocks against a fresher England team to come away with the bronze. But by the time of the Tokyo Olympics in 2021, the team was flying on the pitch and the loss in the final, a final all believed Sweden could (and would) win, Asllani couldn't hide her disappointment, telling the press she was "so f---ing sick of [having] a silver f---ing medal."
Fast-forward to Saturday night and bronze has once again brought pride and delight to the Swedes, with the Scandinavian nation the better team for 90 minutes against World Cup co-hosts Australia and again, they had something solid to show for their football prowess.
Sweden have qualified for every edition of the Women's World Cup and, with back-to-back Olympic bronze medals and only two finishes outside of the past four at 11 European Championships, own the type of form and longevity most nations would give an arm for. But there has only been one major tournament title, only one piece of silver(gold)ware to loft above their heads and take home to Sweden: the 1984 Euro title. The tournament very much outside of what is deemed as the modern era of women's football, when women's football programmes were steeped in amateurism and apathy from national federations/associations.
When asked about what was next for Blågult on Saturday, Swedish centre-back Magda Eriksson told ESPN: "I hope we can build on this because today and I think throughout the tournament, we've shown the quality we have throughout this team. We have played some amazing football, we are solid defensively, I think we have all the factors to be a winning team: A gold winning team."
But as for the how? The defender answered: "I think we're constantly on a learning curve and I think that's something that's great with this team, we want to evolve, we don't want to stand still, we want to get better all the time and I think we learned so much from the Euros last year."
When talking to ESPN, attacker Stina Blackstenius lauded the togetherness in the group and how the ability to lean on each other and come together with the understanding that knowing "what we can achieve when we play at our best" has been a key factor in their success until now.
But for the evolution Eriksson spoke of, for the next steps, of not just showing their guile and grit through the hard tournament yards but coming out on top when it matters most in those semi- and grand finals? Of how this team of bridesmaids can have their own wedding day and claim the big prize at the end?
There is the obvious question of how far they've come under coach Peter Gerhardsson, who overhauled the style, preaching a more attacking mindset whilst adding more consistency to the side, of how much longer the 63-year-old will want to stay in the dugout. There are no loud calls for the manager, who took over in 2017, to be moved on but there will always be the question of how a team can continue to grow and find that evolution without change.
There are of course, players coming through to replace those who after countless years of service move into retirement, goalkeeper Zećira Mušović who had a memorable tournament, taking the baton from Hedvig Lindahl with ease. So too reliable midfielder Filippa Angeldal, who stepped up to fall into the role by retiring 38-year-old captain Caroline Seger. But, even for a team whose average age is usually on the higher side, the key players in the setup like Fridolina Rolfö and Eriksson are right at the end of the 20s, with Asllani already in her mid-30s and there will only be so many more tournaments in their future.
Given the changing landscape of the domestic game with Sweden's Damallsvenskan moving down the pecking order to more of a feeder or development league, catering not just to homegrown players as well as others from around Scandinavia but from further reaches across Africa and the Americas, there is still, at present, a role for the Nordic league to play. However, with investment still on the rise around the traditional football nations and powerhouses, there is a long-term question of how long Damallsvenskan will remain a viable stone on the path through for many of the world's best. And then what that means for the Swedish national team brings about its own questions.
These are all concerns Svenska Fotbollförbundet will live by, with a strong belief in their ability to nurture players through the youth levels before they leave for grasses greener and leagues more professional later in their careers. For now, Sweden have again shown they should be in the conversation for World Cups, Euros and Olympics, the next concern their maiden Nations League campaign that would secure a berth at the Paris Olympics, but first, there are beers to drink and celebrations to be had.