Sweden will be playing in the Rio 2016 women’s Olympic soccer semifinals on Friday, after defeating the United States in a penalty kick shootout in the quarterfinals on Friday in Brasilia, Brazil. It is the earliest the U.S. Women’s National Team will exit a major global tournament – Olympics or World Cup.
The U.S. started with more urgency, something the team doesn’t always do. In the third minute, Carli Lloyd won the ball at midfield and played in Morgan Brian coming cutting inside of the defend down the right. Sweden recovers and forces the ball out for a corner kick. On the resulting kick, Tobin Heath’s left-footed ball found Alex Morgan for a header to the far post but Sweden’s Caroline Seger is there to clear the danger away. Meghan Klingenberg sends the recycled ball back in and Brian gets a left-footed shot off in the box that forces a Hedvig Lindahl save.
Sweden’s corner kick in the 5th minute showed how shaky the marking is for the U.S. on set pieces and how dangerous Sweden is on recycling service off of them. Sweden has power in the air with Nilla Fischer but one of their strengths is the second service and it showed when Seger found her way around Kelley O’Hara to loft the ball back in across the goal after Kosovare Asllani’s initial service, but it was just out over the crossbar. Replay showed Julie Johnston with a tug on the jersey of Linda Sembrant that was missed by the referee.
The game plan for Sweden was simple: sit back low, absorb the pressure, stay organized, and counterattack. While the U.S. pinned Sweden back for the most part in the first 20 minutes, Sweden showed how quickly and efficiently it can counter in the 9th minute.
Fridolina Rolfo dispossessed Becky Sauerbrunn deep in Sweden’s half and started her run down the left and played the ball to Lotta Schelin who is making a run toward the left from center behind the U.S. defense. Meghan Klingenberg goes with her but the defense is caught out and Elin Rubensson is left open in the center to make her run in from midfield. The U.S. could have been down early had Schelin played to ball early to the onrushing Rubensson.
The U.S. held the majority of possession, but service into the box was lacking. The best opportunities came when the U.S. ran at the defense or got end line and cut the ball back into the box. In the 27th minute, Allie Long won the ball in Sweden’s half and played the ball to Mallory Pugh, who pinched in and attacked the defense centrally while Alex Morgan made the run between and behind the defense. The defense stayed and Pugh delivered a ball that was a touch too long for Morgan to really get a good shot off. Morgan rounded Lindahl to the end line, cut it back, and found Lloyd but the ball deflected off of defender Lisa Dahlkvist directly at Lindhal, who had recovered to make the reflex save.
Often, Sweden had all players in its own half behind the ball. But that was always head coach Pia Sundhage’s plan, and the Swedes didn’t deviate from it. The U.S. struggled to break through Sweden’s defense despite maintaining the bulk of possession. Chances were created but not finished. The teams went into halftime knotted at zero.
The game’s first goal came from Sweden 15 minutes into the second half, and it was a textbook counterattack. Long’s ball into Lloyd from the midfield line wasn’t a good one and Fischer was there to head it to Asllani who played it to Seger who played it to Dahlkvist. Dahlvist’s terrific ball exploited the seam between Johnston and Sauerbrunn to find first-half substitute Stine Blackstenius who coolly slotted home a low, right-footed shot far post to beat Hope Solo. Johnston’s last-ditch sliding tackle was inches late. It was a rare mistake by Sauerbrunn, who was late in getting back into position and compounded the error by allowing Blackstenius to get on the inside of her.
Now down by one, U.S. head coach Jill Ellis inserted Crystal Dunn for Long. The U.S. switched to a 4-4-2 and pushed for an equalizer, and when that didn’t come, Ellis subbed on Megan Rapinoe in place of Kelley O’Hara and went with a three-back system to accommodate Rapinoe. The moves paid off.
In the 77th minute Rapinoe won the ball in a challenge with Asllani to start the U.S. attack. While Asllani stayed down, Klingenberg worked the ball to Heath, who sent to ball into the box where Dunn got the slightest touch of her head on it to redirect onto an unprepared Jessica Samuelsson. The ball fell to Morgan who slotted a left-footed ball past Lindahl. 1-1.
The U.S. fell back into a 4-4-2 with Heath pushed back into right back, and pressed hard to find the game-winner while Sweden desperately defended. In the 84th minute, Lloyd might have found the game-winner were it not for a deflection off of Sembrant. The attack started with the effort of the energetic Dunn up the left side. Dunn cut in and shrugged of Seger to find Lloyd on the right. Her curling, left-footed shot looked to have Lindahl beat for the game-winner.
The game-winner didn’t come for either team, but extra time.
Sweden opened up the first extra-time period with more energy and a fresh legs in substitute Olivia Schough. Schough’s speed and runs would give Klingenberg trouble on the left.
Ellis would sub in Christen Press in the 99th minute for Rapinoe, who struggled in her short shift in the game. It was Press’s incisive ball into Morgan from the right that gave the U.S. an opportunity but Morgan’s touch was a little heavy and Lindahl came up big for Sweden yet again.
Both teams seemingly found the game-winners in the second extra-time period but both would be called back. Lloyd’s header into the back of the net in the 115th minute was waved off for what looked to be a foul for bringing down defender Magdalena Eriksson.
Seconds later, Schough’s cross was miss-hit and mishandled by Sauerbrunn and Heath and fell to Schelin, who buried it. The assistant referee waved it off for offside but the replay clearly showed that wasn’t the case. The game would head into a penalty kick shootout.
Penalty Kick Shootout
Morgan’s left-footed kick to the left was saved by Lindahl.
Schelin scored off a right-footed kick to Solo’s right.
Lindahl guessed right but substitute Lindsey Horan’s right-footed shot was hit well and low.
Asllani with the right foot to Solo’s left had her beat.
Lloyd went with the right foot to the left.
Solo saved Sembrant’s right-footed shot to the upper left corner.
Brian used a fast approach and buried her right-footed kick to the left.
Seger converted with her right foot to the right.
Press used her right foot but skies the ball over the goal.
Dahlkvist, so good all game, shrugged off gamesmanship from Solo — who tried to ice her with a glove change and delay of game that should have seen a yellow card — to win it for Sweden with a right-footed shot to the left.
It wasn’t a “pretty win,” and neither was the way in which Sweden slogged through the group stage. But Sweden had a game plan, and the players executed it. And however unpleasing that plan may be in the eyes of some, the point remains: Sweden’s road to a Rio medal continues.
Sweden faces Brazil in the semifinals in a rematch of a group-stage match in which the Swedes were soundly defeated, 1-5. The match is on Tuesday in Rio de Janerio
Some takeaways, some aren’t.
The penalty kick shootout was the fist in the history of the women’s Olympic soccer tournament. It was also the earliest exit from a major tournament for the U.S. in history — not the type of history the U.S. was looking to make.
Hope Solo had an up-an-down tournament; so good against France yet so questionable against Colombia. Her gamesmanship in today’s match, well, truth be told, had it worked we wouldn’t view it so negatively. Such are the thin lines that Solo and this U.S. team operate on.
Solo had some things to say about Sweden’s tactics. While I can’t add anything to whatever debate will rage over the comments, I do recall Louisa Cadamuro (then Nécib) saying the same thing after a 1-3 loss to the U.S. at the 2011 World Cup. Perhaps it was the way in which the sentiments were delivered. Nécib offered more shade while Solo offered a straight-up read.
This game should never have reached penalty kicks, and not because the U.S. should have dominated. The officiating was poor from the start. A missed Johnston shirt tug in the U.S. box set the tone. Rapinoe’s challenge on Asllani might have been a foul, negating the ensuing goal for the U.S. And while the foul on Lloyd in the second period of extra time was correct, the offside call on Schelin was not. The U.S. was fortunate to reach the shootout stage.
Creating but Lack of Finishing
The U.S. shot 26 times but only 5 were on target. The chances were there, the finishing wasn’t. And though they held the bulk of possession, not doing anything with it proved costly.
I’ll be blunt here and offer more nuanced (hopefully) takes on the game later. The first 20 minutes were good for the U.S. but thereafter resorted to long balls and poor service into the box instead of trying to get end line. Whatever game plan was there seemed to be abandoned by the players; Sweden was disciplined, the U.S. was not, and that’s on the players. However, Ellis’ substitutions were questionable at best: Heath and her creativity stuck at right back the most glaring with Ali Krieger available.
What this loss showed for the U.S. is the need for a true No. 10, a true defensive midfielder, more work needed at a formation that showed defensive cracks throughout the tournament (and before if we’re honest), and those cracks widened by personnel/personal choices.
Sundhage outcoached Ellis, Sweden’s players executed, their individuals stepped up (Dahlkvist and Lindahl for sure), and in the end, it was their day.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. That would put the U.S. in the wrong position to compete at the next World Cup and Olympic competitions. The U.S. has a strong core of young and fresh options with a mix of veterans that can anchor the team. Transitions are hard. It’ll take some patience in taking some more lumps as the program grows as well as some flexibility on Ellis’ part to continue to bring in new players while giving the veterans a chance to evolve their games.