July 6, 2011

Sweden 2, United States 1

Sweden scored first half goals on a penalty kick and a free kick to defeat the United States by a 2-1 margin. They played their best match of the tournament so far and the victory earns them first place in Group C. The United States have to settle for second place in Group C, losing their first group stage match ever.

Both teams had a key player out of the lineup. Caroline Seger did not play because of yellow card accumulation, while Heather O'Reilly was forced to sit out because of an injured groin. US striker Abby Wambach did start in spite of her Achilles heel injury.

For the opening six minutes of the match, it looked like the United States were going to take the initiative. Play was almost entirely in Sweden's end, but the US produced only one scoring chance, a shot from 16 yards from Lauren Cheney which was handled easily by Hedvig Lindahl.

However, as the match settled into a rhythm, Sweden took control and had the better of play, as the United States seemed quite out of sync at times.

Sweden had the first great scoring opportunity on the first of many US mistakes on the day. Lindahl's goal kick in the 7th minute was mistakenly headed backwards by midfielder Carli Lloyd and it became quite a good through ball for Lotta Schelin. Schelin dribbled to the penalty spot and released her shot, but Hope Solo made a great kick save to keep Sweden off the board.

The United States had another chance in the 13th minute as the they worked the ball to Amy Rodriguez 25 yards out. She touched a nice pass to Wambach, who was cutting to her left, but her low shot went right to Lindahl.

Disaster struck the United States in the 14th minute. A harmless Lisa Dahlqvist shot from 30 yards was slowed by a deflection off of US defender Christie Rampone. Schelin seized on the opportunity gathering the ball at the 18 and was pulled down by Amy LePeilbet just inside the penalty area. Sweden was correctly awarded a penalty kick and LePeilbet received a yellow card for her challenge.

Dahlqvist stepped up to take the penalty. She went left with her shot and it had to be perfect, because Solo guessed correctly and just missed getting her fingertips on the ball. Sweden led 1-0.

The US almost equalized in the 20th minute. Abby Wambach was able to touch the ball over to Lauren Cheney who had a clear chance from 16 yards. Her blast had Lindahl beat, but flew just wide of the left post. Another Cheney shot from 18 yards dipped just over the crossbar a minute later.

The United States came close again in the 32nd minute as Rodriguez was able to fend off Charlotte Rohlin and chip the ball over the head of Lindahl, but the Swedish goalkeeper had to feel quite relieved as the ball hit the top of the crossbar and went barely over.

The US couldn't have been much more unlucky in the 35th minute, although a bit of sloppy play in back led to the bad luck. Rachel Buehler seemed to be perfectly positioned to intercept a long ball out of the Swedish back, but the ball skipped by her and she then fouled Schelin in the process of trying to get the ball back.

Once again, a deflection on a harmless shot was the culprit. Nilla Fischer's free kick from 28 yards was well struck, but should have been no trouble at all, with Solo moving over to cover the post in case the ball might be on target. Instead, the ball struck LePeilbet and deflected well behind the American keeper into the left side of the net. Two shots from distance, two deflections off American defenders, one setting up a Swedish goal and one directly resulting in a Swedish goal.

Carli Lloyd nearly poked the ball into the net on a Rampone free kick in the 41st minute, but Lindahl made a nice save in traffic to keep the ball in front of her and out of the net.

The half ended with Sweden holding a 2-0 edge. They had played their best half of soccer in the tournament and they clearly had the edge in play in the first half. They also hadn't made near the mistakes that the Americans had. Yet the US had several opportunities and just didn't cash in. However, the United States had too often settled for hopeless long attempts when other options might have been better.

Nilla Fischer tried to make it three in the 57th minute, but her shot from 20 yards went wide of the right post. Josefine Oqvist crossed the ball into the box a minute later, but no one from Sweden was running at the back post and the ball rolled harmlessly through the box.

The United States finally scored in the 67th minute. Cheney took the corner kick from the right side and hit it to the far post. Wambach leaped above everyone and managed to get the top of her shoulder on the ball and it snuck just inside the left post to cut the lead in half.

Meanwhile, Sweden had one chance for Schelin called back on what appeared to be an errant offsides call.

The United States continued to pressure over the last 25 minutes, but could never get the tying goal. Their best chance came in the 86th minute when Cheney beat defender Annica Svensson on the left side and crossed the ball to the middle. Kelley O'Hara's wide open volley went wide of the right post from 14 yards out.

Nilla Fischer had an outstanding game for Sweden, while Schelin and Oqvist gave American defenders problems throughout. Sweden effectively sealed off any threats on their left flank from becoming dangerous, particularly late in the match. Lindahl was solid overall, but a bit fortunate that the United States could not find the goal for much of the match.

For the United States, Ali Krieger continues to impress at right back, while Lauren Cheney continues to be an offensive threat for the US. The United States obviously missed Heather O'Reilly's speed up the right side.

Sweden comes out of Group C play unbeaten and will face Australia on Sunday. The loss for the United States sets up a heavyweight contest between the US and Brazil on Sunday, a rematch of the 2008 Olympic final and the 2007 World Cup semifinal.

While some may call this an upset, it is certainly not a surprise. Sweden had beaten the United States by the identical score in January and the two teams play close matches nearly every time they meet. Sweden were on their game in the first half and their speed gave the US back line trouble, something that the United States will have to rectify before Sunday's match with Brazil.

Perhaps the biggest winner here is Germany for now they know they will at most have to face only one team between the United States and Brazil in the tournament, and then not until the final.

The bracket sets up like this:

Germany vs. Japan
Sweden vs. Australia

England vs. France
Brazil vs. United States


Anonymous said...


Really enjoying the analysis you have put forth here for the WC. Thanks!