CARSON, Calif. (AP) – The United States and Brazil were always expected to renew their rivalry in the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup, but perhaps not so early in the tournament. The US lost its final group play match against Sweden, and the 2-1 score line that doesn't quite reflect Sweden's command of the match. The defeat marks the first time the US has ever lost in a World Cup group stage.
The defeat means that Sweden tops Group C and will meet Australia in the quarterfinals on Sunday. The US, meanwhile, will face Group D winners Brazil in a rematch of the team's duel in the semifinals of the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup - a duel that ended in a humiliating 4-0 US defeat.
Sweden breezed by the US thanks to both quickness and incisiveness. After an early exchange of shots for both sides in the opening 15 minutes, US left back Amy LePeilbet took down oncoming attacker Lotta Schelin in the area. The match official signaled for a penalty kick, and LePeilbet was shown a yellow card. Lena Dahlkist's hard shot beat US goalkeeper Hope Solo, and Sweden took a 1-0 lead.
The US's defensive woes continued as in the 35th minute center back Rachel Buehler clumsily conceded a free kick on the edge of the area. Nilla Fischer's shot deflected off of LePeilbet's back and into the US goal.
The team went into halftime reeling from the 2-0 deficit. Alex Morgan subbed on for Amy Rodriguez and Sweden had slowed down the tempo of the match, but the US still struggled to create chances. In the 67th minute, Abby Wambach restored some faith as she converted a goal - her first of the tournament - off a set piece.
But the States were not able to find the equalizer. Now they must defeat Brazil on Sunday to keep its World Cup hopes alive.
Sweden players celebrate a goal by Lisa Dahlkvist in the 2011 women's World Cup against USA at the Arena Im Allerpark. (Frank Peters/Witters Sport via US PRESSWIRE)
Five talking points from the match:
Sweden did its homework
Sweden head coach Thomas Dennerby deserves credit for spotting the United States' weaknesses and exploiting them. The US. has looked slack in defense in its two previous group matches, and Dennerby clearly took notice.
Despite the US's dominant 3-0 victory against Colombia, Las Cafetera s found some success when the team's strikers ran directly at the heart of the US defense. Center backs Christie Rampone and Rachel Buehler looked to have several misreads.
Sweden took advantage of that vulnerability on Wednesday. The team sprung most of its attacks down the central channel and left flank. Sweden beat outside defender Amy LePeilbet with blistering pace and Buehler also struggled to manage Sweden's quick runs.
Abby Wambach came through with a goal, but will it come at a price?
The star striker has been nursing an Achilles injury as of late, which may explain her uncharacteristic goal drought.
Prior to the match Wambach scored just one goal in the calendar year. There was doubt that the 31-year-old would see time in both halves against Sweden, but a 2-0 deficit at halftime necessitated a full 90-minute showing. Wambach came through with a goal in the second half when she powered a shot off her shoulder. It seemed to initiate a recovery effort from the US, but the team couldn't secure the draw.
The question is whether or not she will be in peak condition to face Brazil on Sunday. The match seemed to be a taxing affair. Will Wambach's fitness hold up against the U.S.' rivals?
Lauren Cheney continues to stand out in a new position
Head coach Pia Sundhage converted the central striker to an outside midfield position for the US's first match against North Korea. The move paid off as Cheney scored the team's first goal of the tournament and went on to claim Woman of the Match honors.
The 24-year-old has continued to make an unfamiliar position her own. She helped spark the US's first half attack by pelting Sweden goalkeeper with powerful shots, even though none of them would find back of the net.
Cheney will need to use her imposing size and accurate shooting skills against a Brazil defense that has yet to concede a goal.
The U.S. couldn't handle the pressure in midfield
Sweden's defensive midfielder Nilla Fischer had a phenomenal game disrupting the US's passing rhythm and denying the US of any productivity in midfield. Fischer went toe-to-toe with the US central midfielders Carli Lloyd and Shannon Boxx and emerged the clear victor. The US was unable to mount an attack from midfield and resorted to launching hopeful long balls. The team seemed hurried and tried to rush its passes and shots, which stood in stark contrast to Sweden's patient buildup play. Fischer had a lot to do with that.
Brazil will like what they saw today
The US has been maddeningly inconsistent this past year, but has managed to pull through when it matters most, like in the team's Women's World Cup qualifying playoff series with Italy last November. Brazil - fresh off a resounding 3-0 win against Equatorial Guinea - will have watched this match with great interest. The team employs an unorthodox 3-4-3 system that uses Maurine and Fabiana as auxiliary outside midfielders that track back in defense when needed. The wide players will undoubtedly look to pinch the US on the wings, particularly on the left. Marta and Cristiane have been in scintillating form this tournament and will undoubtedly look to stretch the center back pairing of Buehler and Rampone. The US must be stout in midfield and avoid allowing Brazil to occupy its own final third. As has been proven in Brazil's three group stage matches, once Brazil's star-studded attack has a shot on goal, they rarely miss.