Sweden beat USA 3-0 in Olympic football opener

CHOFU, Japan – They’ve been waiting five years for this game.

Five years since Sweden dashed the hopes of the United States women’s football team to win an Olympic gold medal at the Rio 2016 Games. Five years since a loss that forced Americans to look in the mirror and to ask difficult questions about their age, their domination, their future.

Five years of waiting, to end up in the same place.

The United States opened the Tokyo Olympics on Wednesday where it had ended the Rio Games five years earlier: on the wrong side of a humiliating and embarrassing loss to Sweden. Then it was a loss on penalties in the quarter-finals; this time it wasn’t as close: Sweden 3, USA 0. But the sting and the statement baked in defeat was just as real.

“It’s a big deal,” defenseman Kelley O’Hara said on Tuesday of the upcoming rematch. “It looks like the Olympics. That’s what we’ve been waiting for five years now, to be back here. “

They didn’t expect it to be like this.

Forward Stina Blackstenius scored a goal in each half for Sweden, a sharp header in the 25th minute and a close range end in the 54th which seemed like a fair reward for a dominant performance at the forefront of a Swedish attack which had the Americans on their heels almost as soon as the game started.

The United States has done everything to turn the tide. Position adjustments to try and help a midfielder were regularly overrun. Substitutions to reshape a powerless attack. Reinforcements to strengthen a tusk that was first stretched and then cut out.

Even the most reliable veterans seemed to have little effect. Carli Lloyd and Julie Ertz – in their first appearance in months – came on at half-time, but Sweden quickly doubled their lead. Megan Rapinoe was inserted to bring a bit of threat on the wing but it never materialized.

Even the start – fortunately in the eyes of the Americans – of Blackstenius in the 64th minute was not a balm; her replacement, Lina Hurtig, simply picked up where she left off with an open header and Sweden’s third goal eight minutes later.

“I thought we were a little tight, a little nervous, just doing stupid stuff,” Rapinoe said of the first hole her teammates dug for themselves.

This is the Americans’ first loss in 24 games under coach Vlatko Andonovski, and their first against an opponent since a loss to France in January 2019. And it will force them to scramble to recover in the Olympic tournament: Matches against New Zealand (on Saturday) and Australia (Tuesday) will come in quick succession in the first round, and tough opponents like Great Britain and the Netherlands could wait in the medal round .

“You lose points at the start of a tournament, you’re in ‘do or die’ mode,” said Rapinoe.

But first, the Americans will have to figure out what went wrong at the Tokyo stadium.

Maybe the defeat shouldn’t have been a total surprise. Sweden is no stranger to the United States – the teams meeting on Wednesday was their 10th in a major league, including games from the last five World Cups – and they could have been forgiven for a little confidence after achieving a strong performance in April against the United States in a 1-1 draw in Stockholm.

This match had seemed at the time, a rare misstep for a United States team to lose is anathema. Until Wednesday, the draw in Stockholm had been the only stain on the Americans’ record under Andonovski (22-0-1).

Wednesday’s victory was a much stronger statement, and it will raise tough questions about Andonovsky’s reliance on an aging core – every striker on the US roster is over 30 – and past results as an indicator. future performance.

While the Olympics have been delayed for a year due to the pandemic, America’s roster is relatively unchanged since the 2019 Women’s World Cup. It not only includes its veteran frontline, but also points of interest. questioning like Ertz, whose appearance was his first for a team in months after a leg injury earlier this year, and Tobin Heath, who has just returned from an injury.

In fact, seventeen of the gold-chasing players in Japan were part of the squad that won the World Cup in France two years ago. Now they’ll have to summon the kind of grain that delivered that prize if they are to claim another, and do so in the melting pot of a scorching Japanese summer and a compressed Olympic calendar.

At least on Wednesday some of the more seasoned players were preaching patience.

“It’s going to be a tough tournament,” forward Christen Press said. “We knew it would be a tough tournament.

Rapinoe, watching from the bench as the team imploded in the first hour, said she wanted to “put a mirror in front of everyone and say, ‘Relax. Was good. ‘”

Defender Becky Sauerbrunn, whose night has been worse than most, seemed poised to move on quickly, although she acknowledged that the tournament – at least from a US perspective – has now changed a lot.

“Bad night tonight,” Sauerbrunn said. “We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

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