Olympic Preview: USWNT face familiar foe in Pia Sundhage’s Sweden

semifinal

by TOM SLATER

The United States Women’s National Team won Group G and now get their reward – a third place team from another group in the knockout round of 16 at the Rio 2016 Summer Games.

Sweden awaits the United States in Brasilia in the first of four quarterfinal matchups Friday at noon ET (NBCS). That match will be followed by China taking on Germany at 3 p.m. ET in Salvador, Canada facing France at 6 p.m. ET in Sao Paulo, and Brazil hosting Australia at 8 p.m. ET in Belo Horizonte.

While the United States played well enough to advance as group winners with a pair of shutout victories and a sloppy draw, Sweden has not impressed thus far. They beat South Africa, 1-0; lost to Brazil, 5-1; and played China to a scoreless draw in what everyone thought was a boring game and display of negative soccer.

Sweden’s biggest threat they have may be their coach — Pia Sundhage. She coached the United States team for four years, including two Olympic Gold Medals in 2008 and 2012 and a second-place finish in the 2011 World Cup. Sundhage also steered the Swedish side last summer and gave the Americans a tough match in World Cup group play — scoreless draw which may have been the worst effort from the United States team last summer.

The former United States coach was critical of some of her former players, especially Carli Lloyd, Hope Solo and Abby Wambach, leading up to that game. Sundhage also knows the American’s mentality better than any other coach in the Olympics. She knows they will grind it out and find that other gear once the knockout round starts.

The Americans will have a short turnaround — less than 48 hours — and will travel another 1200-plus miles to get to Brasilia. And they’ll be trying to shake off the 2-2 draw in which they clearly did not play their best.

But the United States players have kept their eye on the prize.

“The objective was made; we came top of the group,” co-captain Carli Lloyd said after the match. “We as athletes, we always want to perform well, every single game, but reality is that it’s not possible. I look at this as a positive, as something that we can use to motivate ourselves. We know we can be better. We have to move on and now it’s do-or-die time, one game at a time. We’ll be ready and fired up.”

It’s a good bet they will be more fired up than they were against Colombia. The 2-2 draw was highlighted by a couple of errors from goalkeeper Hope Solo, which are highly unlikely to be repeated in the knockout stage. The United States were also victim of bad luck and some timely goalkeeping from the Colombian goalkeeper Sandra Sepulveda.

The draw also provided the chance for Jill Ellis to rest some starters. Alex Morgan and Lloyd were part-timers. Tobin Heath got the night off along with Julie Johnston, who is still resting a sore groin. Megan Rapinoe got some all-important minutes on the field and proved she is fit enough to give a solid 30 minutes.

The winner of this match will play the winner of the China/Germany match in the semifinals Tuesday at noon. The final is set for August 19 at 4:30 p.m. ET.