July 21, (THEWILL) – The first day of the football event of the XXXII Summer Olympics opened with a stunner as Stina Blackstenius found the net twice for Sweden to shock world champions USA in Group G’s opening game of the competition with a 3-0 performance.
The four-time Olympic champions came into the match with an unbeaten streak untouched after 44 games and with a victory run stretching back six good-scoring matches. However, their chequered history playing against the Swedes, against whom they drew seven matches ago and the team that knocked them out of the 2016 Games, continued.
It was not just the result that was astounding on its own merit, with credit going to Sweden for their dominance, it was the seeming disjointed play from the Vlatko Andonovski-led team, which came off as strangely uncharacteristic of the women’s team of the United States that had 4-0 victories in three of their last four matches.
Wednesday’s Olympic opener was revealing in many ways. The Swedes came in with a controlled focus in possession and dominated the early exchanges, putting pressure on the American area constantly. That pressure bore fruit when Blackstenius made a late run to the near post to glance a header from a Sofia Jakobsson’s cross past goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher to break the deadlock 25 minutes into the game.
It was a deserved lead and gave an inkling into what was to come if the USWNT did not recollect themselves and exert the pressure that was synonymous with their game. As the rest of the match showed, however, it was a warning to which the American ladies failed to heed.
One goal could have turned to two or three for the goalscorer Blackstenius to end the first half with a hattrick and even if Rose Lavelle struck the post in her goal attempt, the USA were fortunate to be only one goal behind at half time.
Had Blackstenius converted two more presentable opportunities it could have well been 3-0 at the break.
A more composed Blackstenius rectified her misses nine minutes into the second period to double the Swedish advantage. In a goal mouth chance, she reacted the fastest when teammate Amanda Ilestedt’s header crashed off the post, to slot in from close range leaving the USWNT players shaking their heads.
The Sweden bench decided to rest her after her two-goal heroics that gave the world’s fifth-ranked team a deserved lead against the best female side in the world. She was replaced by Lena Hurting three minutes after the hour mark. America’s coach Andonovski also brought in US icon Megan Rapinoe to stem the US response.
However, though Christian Press’s ricocheted shot hit the woodwork as the USA rallied, there was little they could do about the rapid counter-attack that Sweden marshalled in the 72nd minute to put the game to bed. And it was Blackstenius’ replacement Hurtig’s smart header that sealed the game for the Swedes.
It was not a vintage performance by the US by any stretch. They were behind from the start and it did not improve the more they played.
The most successful female team in the world has not lost by three goals often, only four times in all, with the worse gap being a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Brazil at the 2007 World Cup.
But the Swedes seem to have it in for the Americans. That 2016 quarterfinal in Brazil was by 1-0 but this was by far a more decisive and thorough beating. It sets a marker for how the Olympics might play out and that Sweden is a side to watch in the race to gold.
The USWNT aimed to become the first team to ever follow a World Cup title with Olympic gold and came to Tokyo with an experienced crop of players but these players are advanced in age as well. Five players in the squad were over 32 and two substitutes were 39 and 36. It is something Andonovski will want to keep in mind.
As bad a loss as it is, America can recoup their losses in subsequent matches in the Group stages. Yet, the margin of error is slim, moreso because of the goal difference. If they begin to play as the US women have been known to play, it is not beyond them to finish strongly and qualify out of this group to the knockout stages.