U.S. women lose to Sweden, must meet powerful Brazil in WWC quarterfinals.
By Robert Wagman
(Wednesday, July 6, 2011) -- The United States hopes of winning the Women's World Cup took a severe blow when it fell 2-1 to Sweden today in the Group C finale for both nations before 23,468 at World Cup Stadium if Wolfsburg, Germany.
Having competed in all six World Cups, the Americans had not previously lost a game in group play. Had they won or tied against Sweden, they would have won Group C and would have faced a relatively weak Australia, the Group D runnerup, in the quarterfinals. Instead, by placing second, they meet Group D winner and tournament power Brazil Sunday at 11 a.m. (ET), a match televised by ESPN and Spanish-language Galavision.
"It is what it is," U.S. striker Abby Wambach said. "We wanted to go out first place in our group, but we didn't. We want to go into this next game with a positive attitude and that's kind of the theme we've had in the whole run-up to this World Cup. There are going to be bumps in the road and in order for us to be standing on the top podium at the end of this tournament, we have to turn something that could be perceived as a negative into a positive and that's what we're going to do."
The U.S. found itself down by a pair of goal by halftime, the result of poor finishing, poor defending and a measure of bad luck. The Americans made something of a comeback over the final 45 minutes, but they fell short as Sweden defended well, giving up only a goal to Abby Wambach, her first tally of the competition, off a corner kick.
The U.S. had more than its share of good chances, but as has been the case so often in this tournament, its shots went just high or just wide. In the meantime, the left side of the American defense was awful. Outside defender Amy LePeilbet came over and committed a clumsy foul as she attempted to cover for Rachel Buehler, who was beaten and out of position. The result was a Sweden penalty kick and 1-0 lead in the 16th minute.
Later, Buehler committed a silly foul with the resulting free kick by Nilla Fischer hit LePeilbet, deflecting and completely changing direction. U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo, who would have been in position to make a save, instead watch the ball go in the opposite side of the net for a 2-0 Sweden lead after 35 minutes.
The U.S. picked up the pace after intermission, but faced a packed-in Sweden defense. The Americans were given a lot of room in the midfield, but Sweden shut them down effectively in the final third. As was the case in the first half, U.S. had chances, but could not convert, except for Wambach's goal off midfielder Lauren Cheney's deflected corner, a redirection that hit the front of her shoulder and appeared to go in off a defender's arm.
In defeating the U.S., Sweden defeated on of its own soccer legends, Pia Sundhage, the U.S. coach.
"I thought it was a good game today: entertaining, but also tactically pretty interesting," Sundhage said. "I'm happy with the way we created chances, but disappointed we didn't win the game. . . I really want us to embrace the pressure. I think we'll get stronger and it will be inspiring to play against Brazil.
"What we will talk about from now on is playing in the final. In order to play in the final, we need to step up and be sharper with our chances. We start with Brazil. That will motivate the players more and this is a big chance."
Squandered chances have been the story of this World Cup for the United States. It will have to finish better if it is to get by a heated rival -- Brazil with its star Marta.
U.S. Player Ratings:
Goalkeeper Hope Solo - 6: Can't be faulted on either Sweden goal as, overall, she performed well.
Defender Amy LePeilbet - 3: Again the weak spot in the back. She gave up a bad foul and did little to make up for the error.
Defender Rachel Buehler - 3.5: At times, she made good stops, but too often was out of position and not putting out enough effort. Overall, a very poor effort.
Defender Christie Rampone - 6: She seemed to start slowly and had a few problems, but came on strong and had a flawless second half.
Defender Ali Krieger - 6: The best U.S. defender, she made stops on the right side, while getting forward effectively.
Midfielder Shannon Boxx - 5.5: The veteran was able, at times. to control play in the midfield, but she needed to do more.
Midfielder Carli Lloyd - 5: Another American who ran hard off the ball, got more than her share of chances, but was either off target or shot straight at the opposing goalkeeper.
Midfielder Lauren Cheney - 4: Found herself open time after time, but could not finish.
Midfielder Megan Rapinoe - 5: Was very active, but without much effect. Made some long runs, but often lost control or was stripped of possession.
Forward Amy Rodriguez - 4.5: Had chances but could not find the net. Came off at the start the second half.
Forward Abby Wambach - 6: She is bothered by chronic tendonitis in her right Achilles and was questionable. Then, she was only supposed only to play a half, but when the U.S. fell behind, she went the distance and finally broke out of her scoring drought.
Forward Alex Morgan (46th minute for Rodriguez) - 5: Used pace to challenge the Swedish back-line, but to of little avail. Created a few chances, but cold not convert.
Stephanie Cox (59th minute for LePeilbet) - 5.5:: Was a huge improvement over LePeibet and made no noticeable errors. Will likely be the starter against Brazil Sunday in the quarterfinals.
Midfielder Kelly O'Hara (73rd minute for Rapinoe) - 4: Fit right in by failing to convert an easy chance that would have tied the match and won the group for the U.S.
SoccerTimes U.S. Player of the Match: Abby Wambach.
Robert Wagman is SoccerTimes senior correspondent.
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