February 28, 2010

US Faces Sweden for a Berth in Algarve Final

The United States Women's National Team will face Sweden on Monday, with a spot in the Algarve Cup final at stake. The US would advance to the final with a win or a tie against Sweden. In Group A, Germany is in virtually the same position, needing only a win or tie over China to make the final.

The schedule organizers did the US no favors by placing them in the same group with Sweden and Norway, coincidentally, the last two teams to defeat the US in international competition. The US lost to Sweden in last year's Algarve Cup final and to Norway in the opening round of the 2008 Olympic Games.

A year ago, Sweden defeated the US in the Algarve Final which was decided on penalty kicks. Sweden had the upper hand for most of that game, with great goalkeeping by Hope Solo keeping the match close, before a late Shannon Boxx goal sent the game into penalties. It then took 7 penalty rounds to decide a winner.

Both Pia Sundhage of the US and Thomas Dennerby of Sweden have experimented with their lineups in their first two matches. Expect both to start their A-listers on Monday. The US has not trailed in either of their matches, although the game against Norway went down to the wire, with Abby Wambach scoring in stoppage time for the victory. By contrast, Sweden has trailed early in both matches, falling behind Norway 2-0 before fighting back for a tie, and trailing Iceland 1-0 at halftime before disposing of them by a 5-1 score.

In last year's meeting, Swedish strikers, most particularly Lotta Schelin, got behind American defenders repeatedly. The US cannot afford a repeat of that performance, although goalkeeper Hope Solo appears to be on top of her game, stopping two penalties against Iceland. One thing that is different from last year's matchup is that Abby Wambach is back and healthy for the US squad. After scoring her 100th career USWNT goal last year and finishing the 2009 WPS season on a scoring spree, she appears to be back in form. Wambach scored both goals in the US victory over Norway on Friday.

In the other Group B match, Norway will face Iceland. Meanwhile in Group A, the mighty Germans have outscored their two opponents by an 11-0 margin and only China stands in their way for a berth in Wednesday's final. Denmark and Finland will meet in the other Group A matchup.