The United States Women’s National Team dreams of winning Olympic Gold on the back of the FIFA Women’s World Cup for the first time in their history suffered a blow when their Tokyo 2020 campaign began with a humiliating 3-0 defeat to their old nemeses from Sweden in Japan today.
It was the United States first defeat since in 44 games since losing to France in Le Havre in 2019, their first defeat in the Olympic Games since a group-stage defeat to Norway in 2008 and ended Vlatko Andonovski’s 23-game unbeaten start as head coach of the four-time world champions. The three-goal margin also made it their heaviest defeat since losing to France in the 2017 She Believes Cup and the heaviest in a global tournament since a 4-0 humiliation against Brazil in the 2007 FIFA World Cup.
Sweden had been the world champions’ conquerors in the previous Olympic Games following an acrimonious defeat on penalties in Belo Horizonte after which United States goalkeeper Hope Solo accused the defensive Swedish team of playing like “a bunch of cowards”. That was not the case today as the Scandinavians attacked from the outset and fully-deserved their victory thanks to two goals from Stina Blackstenius and a header from substitute Lina Hurtig.
Yet it was the manner of the defeat which left head coach Andonovski with most questions to face as the Scandinavians repeatedly tore his world champion team apart in the first half when only a combination of poor finishing, good goalkeeping from Alyssa Naeher and two last-ditch tackles from Crystal Dunn on the outstanding Sofia Jakobsson keeping the score down to 1-0 at the break.
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Speaking after the game, a surprised Andonovski said “of course, that is not something we expected. We don’t expect to lose to begin with, especially not 3-0. First, there are some things we didn’t do well enough but I want to give credit to Sweden who played incredibly well. “I don’t think this team has ever been in a situation like this, it’s a little bit of a shock. Everyone is positive and we still have games ahead of us”. Rapinoe was more succinct “it is what it is. We got bopped”.
In the heat and humidity of the Japanese capital, the world champions had no answer to the pace and power of the Swedish team. Despite spending weeks acclimatizing in Florida and Texas before flying out to Tokyo, the experienced United States squad boasting an average age of just under 30 appeared to flag in temperatures in excess of 30 degrees centigrade.
The two FIFA World Players of the Year, 39-year-old Carli Lloyd and 36-year-old Megan Rapinoe started the game as substitutes. Both were introduced in the second half with Rapinoe immediately creating the team’s best opportunity of the entire game, crossing for Christen Press who could only hit the post. More encouragingly, midfield lynch-pin Julie Ertz successfully came through the second half after coming on for her first playing time since recovering from a Medial Collateral Ligament injury which threatened to rule her out of the Games.
The United States now must win at least one of their remaining two matches in the group against New Zealand in Saitama on Saturday or against Australia in Kashima on Tuesday to qualify for the quarter-finals. Andonovski admitted “we put ourselves in a big hole but we are the only ones who can ourselves out of it. It’s not going to be easy we have to get positive results in the next two games.”