Sweden kicked off the women’s Olympic football competition with a 3-0 thrashing of the US Women’s National Team on Wednesday.
Sweden won deservedly thanks to a brace from Stina Blackstenius and a thumping header from Lina Hurtig, with the US looking a shadow of the team that won the World Cup two years ago.
From the first whistle to the last, Sweden was clearly the superior team, and the USWNT, which entered the Olympics as a strong favorite, has a lot of work to do in the coming games against New Zealand and Australia if it wants to win a fifth gold medal.
This historic victory for Sweden will give the team hope that it can improve on its performance in Rio 2016, when it lost the gold medal match to Germany at the final hurdle.
The defeat for the US brings an end to a 44-game unbeaten streak (40 wins and four draws) that dated back to a friendly loss to France in January 2019.
Sweden defeated the United States the last time these two teams met on the Olympic stage, winning a penalty shootout in the quarterfinals in Brazil five years ago.
Becky Sauerbrunn told the Guardian that the loss was “one of the worst results that the senior national team has ever had in a major tournament,” adding that it provided extra motivation for the victorious 2019 World Cup campaign and the upcoming Olympics.
During the opening exchanges of the match in Tokyo’s Ajinomoto Stadium — before which both teams took a knee in the empty arena — there was little sign of that motivation, as Sweden dominated from the start.
After 25 minutes, Sofia Jakobsson’s whipped cross was brilliantly glanced home by Blackstenius at the near post, giving the Swedes the goal they deserved for their early play.
In the first 45 minutes, the United States had barely managed to get out of its own half, let alone gain any sort of foothold in the game, with Sweden controlling more than 60% of possession.
Just before halftime, Blackstenius had a fantastic chance to double Sweden’s lead, controlling a long pass brilliantly on her chest but getting the ball stuck under her feet, allowing US goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher to come out and smother the chance.
Given the depth of talent in the US team, it was always going to be difficult for Sweden to keep its opponents at bay for the entire half. Rose Lavelle had a chance to level the score, but her header from a long ball into the box hit the outside of the post.
It was a testament to Sweden’s superiority that it was the reigning world champion’s only real chance of note in the first half, with the yellow shirts swarming the US players in midfield and not allowing them a moment to relax on the ball.
Sweden’s only criticism was that it had only managed to open up a one-goal lead; would the team regret its wastefulness in front of goal?
At the start of the second half, USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski made two substitutions, bringing on Carli Lloyd and Julie Ertz to replace Alex Morgan and Samantha Mewis.
Ertz appeared to give the US team a new lease on life, but just as it appeared that the game’s momentum was shifting, Sweden doubled its lead.
After a Swedish corner caused mayhem in the US box, Blackstenius picked up the scraps at the far post and poked the ball past Naeher into the roof of the net.
The situation for the US team only worsened from there.
Sweden put an exclamation mark on its performance when Hurtig rose high in the box to head home Hanna Glas’ cross after substitute Megan Rapinoe hit the post when she should have scored.
The camera cut to a bemused Andonovski sitting helplessly on the US bench.
If the US is to avoid a shock early exit, he will have plenty to think about ahead of the tough upcoming matches against New Zealand and Australia.