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Sweden Stuns U.S. Soccer Crew in Olympic Opener

Sweden celebrated after going up 2-0 in the second half. The team scored another goal not long after.
Credit score…Doug Mills/The New York Occasions

CHOFU, Japan — 5 years. That’s how lengthy it had waited for this sport.

5 years since the USA ladies’s soccer crew’s hopes for an Olympic gold medal on the 2016 Rio Video games had been dashed by Sweden. 5 years since a defeat that pressured the People to look within the mirror and ask onerous questions on their age, dominance and future.

5 years of ready, solely to finish up proper again in the identical place.

The US opened the Tokyo Olympics on Wednesday precisely the place it ended the Rio Video games 5 years earlier: reeling from a humbling, embarrassing defeat to Sweden.

Again then, it was a loss on penalties within the quarterfinals. This time, it was not practically as shut: Sweden dominated the USA, 3-0. Again then, Sweden had bunkered down and pissed off the People. On Wednesday, it merely dominated from one aspect of the sphere to the opposite.

“Did we anticipate this end result tonight? No,” U.S. ahead Megan Rapinoe stated. “It’s irritating, and it’s irritating that it’s Sweden.”

“I don’t bear in mind the final time we gave up a objective,” she added. “So to surrender three will not be nice.”

Defender Kelley O’Hara acknowledged earlier than the sport that she and her teammates had been pining for one more shot on the Swedes on the Video games. “It’s what we’ve waited now 5 years for, to be again right here,” she stated.

They simply by no means anticipated it to go like this.

Credit score…Pictures by Emily Rhyne/The New York Occasions; composite picture by Larry Buchanan

Striker Stina Blackstenius delivered a objective in every half for Sweden, a glancing header within the twenty fifth minute and a point-blank end within the 54th that felt like a simply reward for a dominant efficiency on the tip of a Sweden assault that had the People on their heels nearly as quickly as the sport started.

The US tried all the things to show the tide. Positional tweaks to attempt to support a midfield that was routinely overrun. Substitutions to refashion a largely toothless assault. Reinforcements to bolster a protection that was first stretched after which minimize aside.

Even essentially the most dependable of veterans introduced on to assist appeared to have little impact. Carli Lloyd and Julie Ertz — in her first look in months — got here on at halftime, however Sweden quickly doubled its lead. Rapinoe was inserted to supply a little bit of menace on the wing, nevertheless it by no means materialized.

Even the departure — mercifully, within the People’ view — of Blackstenius, within the sixty fourth minute, wasn’t a balm; her alternative, Lina Hurtig, merely picked up the place she left off by rising for an open header and turning it into Sweden’s third objective eight minutes after approaching.

Credit score…Doug Mills/The New York Occasions

The defeat was the People’ first in 24 video games below Coach Vlatko Andonovski and their first towards any opponent since a loss to France in January 2019. It’ll drive them to scramble to recuperate within the dash that’s the Olympic match: Video games towards New Zealand (on Saturday) and Australia (on Tuesday) will arrive in fast succession within the first spherical, and more durable opponents like Britain, Brazil and the Netherlands may await within the medal spherical.

“You drop factors at first of a match, you’re in do-or-die mode,” Rapinoe stated.

However first, the People should kind out simply what went improper at Tokyo Stadium.

Maybe defeat mustn’t have been an entire shock. Sweden isn’t any stranger to the USA — the groups’ assembly on Wednesday was their tenth in a serious championship, together with video games within the final 5 World Cups — and Sweden may have been forgiven a little bit of confidence after it turned in a powerful efficiency in April towards the USA in a 1-1 tie in Stockholm.

That sport appeared, on the time, a uncommon misstep for a U.S. crew for which dropping is anathema. Till Wednesday, the tie in Stockholm had been the one blemish on the People’ file below Andonovski (22-0-1).

Credit score…Alexandra Garcia/The New York Occasions

Wednesday’s win was a a lot stronger assertion, the sort of one-sided efficiency that the USA is extra used to meting out than swallowing. And it’ll elevate onerous questions on Andonovski’s reliance on an growing older core — each ahead on the U.S. roster is over 30 — and on his dedication to previous outcomes as an indicator of future efficiency.

Whereas the Olympics had been delayed a 12 months due to the pandemic, the U.S. roster is comparatively unchanged for the reason that 2019 Ladies’s World Cup. It contains not solely its veteran entrance line but in addition query marks like Ertz, whose look was her first on any crew in months after a leg harm this 12 months, and Tobin Heath, who is just just lately again from an harm of her personal.

“I don’t decide the gamers by their age,” Andonovski stated when he picked his Olympic roster. “They’re both good, carry out effectively and may help us win, or they’ll’t.”

He is aware of that dismissing his crew as a gold medal favourite off a single efficiency could be a mistake. Seventeen of the gamers in search of gold in Japan, for instance, had been on the crew that lifted the World Cup in France two years in the past. A handful have gold medals from earlier Video games. Now, although, they should summon the sort of grit that delivered these prizes if they’re to say one other one, and do it within the crucible of a scorching Japanese summer time and the compressed Olympic schedule.

On Wednesday, no less than, just a few of essentially the most skilled gamers had been preaching persistence.

“It’s going to be a tough match,” ahead Christen Press stated. “However we knew it was going to be a tough match.”

Credit score…Emily Rhyne/The New York Occasions

Defender Becky Sauerbrunn, whose evening went worse than most, sounded prepared to maneuver on from it shortly, at the same time as she acknowledged that the match — no less than from a United States perspective — had now modified.

“Dangerous evening tonight,” she stated. “We’ve bought lots of work forward of us.”

FULL TIME. Sweden notches an enormous upset, 3-0, over the USA! The celebrations are low-key on this empty stadium. The People dangle their heads for less than a second earlier than lining as much as shake fingers with the Swedes.

90′ Press with yet one more probability. She makes a deep run straight by the guts of the Swedish protection and will get on the tip of a cross from the left aspect. However her header drifts too near Lindahl, who fists it away. A minute later Lloyd sends her personal header to the left of the objective and out of bounds.

Credit score…Alexandra Garcia/The New York Occasions

87′ Press chests down a excessive cross from Rapinoe and lashes a right-footed shot towards the far publish. It’s bought a bit an excessive amount of English on it, although, and twists away from the body of the objective. The U.S. is maintaining the stress, however Sweden is sustaining its composure. It’s a extremely spectacular efficiency from the crew in yellow.

Credit score…Alexandra Garcia/The New York Occasions

81′ The People make a few late subs, with defender Tierna Davidson approaching for Crystal Dunn, and midfielder Kristie Mewis getting into the sport for Rose Lavelle.

75′ Two remaining subs for Sweden, which — given how this has gone up to now — shouid don’t have any hassle seeing this out from right here.

73′ Lina Hurtig was being marked by Abby Dahlkemper … till she was not. When Hanna Glas floated a excessive, arcing cross from the suitable sideline, Hurtig was on their lonesome to go it calmly previous Naeher. The celebration was muted; Sweden is in full management, in spite of everything. This feels out of attain for the USA and can be a shocking end result for a crew broadly anticipated to win the gold medal.

72′ GOAL! 3-0 Sweden. Woof.

Credit score…Doug Mills/The New York Occasions

71′ SO CLOSE FOR THE U.S.! Rapinoe bought free once more on the left aspect and threaded a cross throughout the mouth of objective to Press, who bought a clear shot off towards objective. However the ball ricocheted off the left publish and finally bounced out of hurt’s method. They actually wanted that one.

70′ Bjorn goes down (fairly simply) after successful a header towards Lloyd at midfield and takes her time getting up. Sweden is in full-on protect-the-lead mode now.

Credit score…Doug Mills/The New York Occasions

69′ Crystal Dunn, excessive up the sphere on the left wing, slips a intelligent ball by the protection to launch Megan Rapinoe to the left of Sweden’s objective. She tries to tear a shot, however the angle feels a bit too tight, and it’s saved simply by Lindahl.

64′ Two subs for Sweden, which (mercifully for the U.S. protection) withdraws Blackstenius.

On the opposite aspect, Megan Rapinoe comes on for Heath and takes up a place on Lloyd’s left.

61′ Lavelle blasts a left-footed bomb from deep contained in the U.S. half into the open area behind the Swedish protection, the place Carli Lloyd collects and dribbles right-to-left contained in the field towards the objective. Lloyd’s lefty shot deflects off her defender’s foot, although, and dribbles away harmlessly.

60′ A number of chatter and hand-clapping from the USA gamers now as they attempt to pin the Swedes deep for a change. However Lavelle and Horan get crossed up on an alternate, and again the opposite method we go. Inside a minute, Blackstenius is wheeling within the space for yet one more shot.

Credit score…Doug Mills/The New York Occasions

54′ Amanda Ilestedt rose up highest out of the pack to knock a nook kick towards the U.S. objective. The shot bounced off the far publish and dropped to the toes of Blackstenius, who blasted it into the roof of the web from point-blank vary. Naeher was helpless, flailing her arms to no avail. That’s Blackstenius’s second objective, and once more, it feels very a lot deserved for Sweden. The People must scramble now.

54′ GOAL! Sweden doubles its lead! 2-0!

Credit score…Doug Mills/The New York Occasions

54′ Sweden wins a nook, and practically a free header off it, after which one other on the far nook.

If this half is feeling so much like the primary, that’s as a result of it’s enjoying out precisely like the primary.

51′ Kelley O’Hara was wanting up at a ball in midair when she obtained a forearm from a Swedish participant between her shoulder blades. She was on the bottom, holding the again of her neck in ache for a few minutes, however seems to be advantageous.

Credit score…Doug Mills/The New York Occasions
Credit score…Alexandra Garcia/The New York Occasions

48′ Ertz is muscled off the ball by an Asllani and Rolfo sandwich, and the Swedes are in. The shot that outcomes is a screamer however soars simply over the bar.

Lloyd and Ertz approaching.

Ertz is on for Sam Mewis, and enjoying the deep midfield function. That is her first look since sustaining a leg harm in a membership sport months in the past. Lloyd has changed Alex Morgan within the central striker’s function.

All seven of Sweden’s subs stayed out at halftime, loosening up for potential work within the second half. The US, in the meantime, retreated to the locker room en masse to debate what went improper.

Two gamers have all of a sudden returned, although, to loosen up forward of the others, and they’re an intriguing pair: Carli Lloyd and Julie Ertz.

If it feels uncommon to observe the USA get bossed round for a half, effectively, it ought to. It doesn’t occur usually. However Sweden’s techniques — pressuring Crystal Dunn’s aspect with Sofia Jakobsson and others many times, after which utilizing slashing cuts and main balls down the middle to separate the stretched protection — have left the People on their heels many times. Naeher has come up huge just a few occasions, however the U.S. assault has been invisible, and due to that the protection simply can’t appear to get its footing and shrug off the stress, which has been relentless.

Credit score…Doug Mills/The New York Occasions

HALFTIME. That whistle is likely to be a reduction for the USA, which was on its heels for practically the whole half and — regardless of Lavelle’s late header off the publish — might be fortunate to go in at 1-0.

Megan Rapinoe, who watched the primary half from the bench, bolted out of her seat and sprinted to the mouth of the tunnel to intercept the American starters as they walked off the sphere. She then stood there and high-fived each as they headed for the locker rooms. May she come on and make a distinction within the second half? It’s clear the U.S. must make some tweaks.

45′ Oooooh that was shut! O’Hara drives a screamer from simply inside Sweden’s half, a hopeful ball that turns into a greater and higher one with each inch nearer to Rose Lavelle. Lavelle, streaking in on the left publish, meets it because it falls with a robust header that beats Lindahl — after which dings off the left publish and again out.

That’s the most effective U.S. probability of the half by far.

Sofia Jakobsson of Sweden tackled Kelley O'Hara of the United States in Sweden’s game against the US in April.
Credit score…Linnea Rheborg/Getty Pictures

This sport feels, oddly, so much just like the groups’ assembly in April in Stockholm, when Sweden scored on a near-post header within the first half and managed the sport for many of the evening. That’s, till Megan Rapinoe arrived within the nick of time (from the People’ perspective) to grab a late penalty and a 1-1 tie.

Sweden certainly left the stadium that evening feeling good about its efforts towards a crew nearly as good as the USA — simply because it should about its first half at present — and maybe somewhat aggrieved that it didn’t end off its win.

That sport is the one one below Vlatko Andonovski, out of 23 matches, that led to something however a U.S. victory. The People haven’t misplaced to anybody in any respect since January 2019.

43′ Blackstenius gallops into open area behind the U.S. protection, glides below a superbly delivered lengthy ball from the suitable aspect and controls it along with her chest into the field. It regarded like a certain objective, however her remaining contact within the field was not notably clear. The ball will get caught below her foot, giving Naeher a gap to swoop in and seize it earlier than any harm could be carried out. It may have been 2-0 there.

38′ Some delicate footwork by O’Hara on the high of Sweden’s penalty space leaves her defender chasing shadows and O’Hara a free take a look at a cross. Lindahl, nevertheless, gobbles it up earlier than it might trigger hassle.

37′ Alex Morgan was in a great deal of ache after being worn out from behind by a Swedish participant. She had her face in her fingers, earlier than her teammates helped peel her off the grass. She appears to be OK now.

Credit score…Doug Mills/The New York Occasions

31′ A hydration break could also be precisely what the physician ordered for Vlatko Andonovski and the U.S. He’s in the course of his gamers gesturing with each fingers, and now could be in a back-and-forth dialog with Heath.

Credit score…Doug Mills/The New York Occasions

31′ Sofia Jakobsson, who had the help on Sweden’s objective, has been a handful for defender Crystal Dunn and the U.S. up to now. Carrying No. 10, she’s discovering all types of area to work on the suitable wing, continually calling for the ball, repeatedly getting it and charging aggressively into area. Dunn needed to slide to disclaim one other golden probability for Jakobsson, who had dribbled all the best way to the mouth of the objective at full velocity.

It’s been waaaay too straightforward for Sweden on the suitable aspect at present. The objective confirmed that, however the usually unflappable Dunn is absolutely having it tough.

26′ Naeher, to be clear, had no probability there. Level-blank header, and an early gap for the USA.

25′ That’s a well-deserved objective for Sweden, who had been creating one probability after one other. It was solely a matter of time. Jakobsson sliced a cross from the suitable aspect to Blackstenius, who let the ball look off her brow and into the web.

Credit score…Doug Mills/The New York Occasions

25′ GOAL! Sweden takes the lead!

24′ And one other! It’s Rolfo this time, sprung up the middle in a fast alternate. Naeher once more dives proper to palm away her shot. However the U.S. certainly is aware of it’s enjoying with fireplace right here. Too many probabilities.

23′ Asllani forces yet one more diving save from Naeher with a curling shot from exterior the field.

21′ And identical to that Heath drops right into a deep-lying midfield function and Mewis pushes a lot larger, alongside Morgan.

20′ We’re 20 minutes in and it feels as if the U.S. must discover a approach to get Mewis and Horan a bit extra of the ball, if solely as a result of that may imply Sweden’s midfield would have rather less of it.

How quiet is it on this stadium? You could possibly hear just a few particular person gasps in response to Alyssa Naeher’s save.

Credit score…Doug Mills/The New York Occasions

The US closes its warm-up with a little bit of cheering because the starters take one final dash. Possibly they do it each time and nobody hears it, nevertheless it’s nonetheless jarring to listen to gamers’ voices that clearly, even after so many months of the pandemic.

Environment can be a problem at present, the U.S. defender Kelley O’Hara admitted in a convention name this week. And he or she stated that she and her teammates would do their finest to create somewhat of it — to get “loud” was her phrase.

“If we could be loud and communicative and simply carry vitality with our voices, as a result of we’re going to have the ability to hear one another — which generally doesn’t occur once you step onto a pitch in a serious match — I feel that that may contribute to our vitality and the vibe of the sport,” she stated.

We’ll see what we will hear: They’ve already examined the pumped-in crowd noise this night. (Pretend cheers! Not only for TV viewers anymore!)

The U.S. women’s national soccer team plays Sweden in its first match at the Olympics on Wednesday.
Credit score…Doug Mills/The New York Occasions

Kelley O’Hara remembers all of it: the new steamy day in Brasília, the resolute Swedish protection, the celebrations its gamers loved and the despair of her personal crew, its dream of a second consecutive gold medal vanishing in a single, irritating afternoon.

That match, a quarterfinal on the 2016 Rio Olympics received by Sweden in a penalty-kick shootout, was the final sport the USA ladies’s crew performed within the Video games. For 5 years, O’Hara stated, she and her teammates have been itching to make it proper.

“It looks like a giant deal,” O’Hara stated Tuesday. “It feels just like the Olympics. It’s what we’ve waited now 5 years for, to be again right here.”

It’s maybe becoming that the USA will open its newest pursuit of Olympic soccer gold on Wednesday with a sport towards Sweden. There is no such thing as a crew, in reality, that the People have confronted extra in world championship competitors: six conferences within the World Cup, together with the previous 5 tournaments, and two extra on the Olympics. These collisions embody the 2016 defeat in Brazil, which was the primary time an American ladies’s crew had returned from the Video games with out a medal.

“It’s a sport and a loss that I’ve considered so much over the past 5 years,” stated O’Hara, who began the sport however watched its denouement helplessly from the bench after being substituted. “How are we going to get revenge? Hopefully we’re going to beat them.”

With video games towards Australia and New Zealand to return, the USA faces doubtlessly its sternest check of the match towards Sweden on opening day. The Swedes, the world’s fifth-ranked crew, are the one aspect to disclaim the People a victory since January 2019, and the groups’ 1-1 tie in Stockholm in April is the one blemish on the unbeaten file of United States Coach Vlatko Andonovski (22-0-1). Solely an 87th-minute penalty kick by Megan Rapinoe, in reality, prevented defeat that day.

But even for a veteran United States crew with voluminous championship expertise — 17 of the 18 gamers on the present squad lifted the World Cup two summers in the past — nearly nothing else about this 12 months’s match will really feel acquainted: not the venues, and positively not the pandemic circumstances, which embody the absence of household, pals and followers within the stands.

One factor that by no means adjustments is the stakes. The US is attempting to win the Olympic match for a file fifth time. However it is also attempting — once more — to turn out to be the primary reigning Ladies’s World Cup champion to say the Olympic gold. That was the objective in 2016, in fact, however Sweden despatched the People house empty-handed.

“I’d be mendacity if I stated I hadn’t considered that, and I feel most individuals on the crew have,” O’Hara stated. “On the identical time, I do know what it takes to win a serious match. For me it’s about specializing in the sport proper in entrance of me and the opponent that I’m going to play, so I don’t get too caught up in, ‘Oh, we’re going to make historical past, or do that or do this, or break this file or that file.’ To me it’s simply, win the sport.

“However that being stated,” she shortly added of the potential World Cup-Olympic double, “it’d be very cool.”

Preparations for Wednesday’s match at Tokyo Stadium.
Credit score…Doug Mills/The New York Occasions

Wednesday’s sport is being broadcast by USA Community and Telemundo in the USA, and it’s also out there on the NBC Sports activities and Telemundo Deportes streaming platforms, and at

When you missed the match, it is going to be replayed on NBCSN at 8:30 a.m. Japanese time and 6 p.m. Japanese.

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