LE HAVRE, France — An early goal by Lindsey Horan and an own goal by Sweden carried the United States to a 2-0 victory at the World Cup on Thursday, the third consecutive dominant performance by the Americans in defense of their world title.
Horan scored on a goal-mouth scramble in the third minutes and Jonna Andersson was credited with an own goal after deflecting in a hard, tight-angle shot by Tobin Heath in the 50th minute. Heath, who teased the Sweden defenders from her right-wing position most of the night and also offered a hustling defensive performance, was named the game’s most valuable player.
The Americans advanced to a game against Spain on Monday in the round of 16 in Reims. If they win there, they will play host France in the quarterfinals. The matchup of heavyweights is both mouth-watering and frustrating for organizers, since one of the favorites will go out of the tournament in it.
While the score was tight, Thursday’s match was not. The Americans pressed Sweden from the first minute, and went ahead when Horan slammed in a corner kick from two yards before the crowd had settled into its seats. The United States controlled possession for long stretches, and any time it lost the ball, it seemed as if the players were in a race against one another to get it back.
Sweden managed a few shots against Alyssa Naeher — the first real chances she has seen in three games in her first World Cup — but she handled each of them without a problem.
The shutout victory completed a perfect group stage for the Americans, who thrashed Thailand (13-0), overpowered Chile (3-0) and never let Sweden breathe. The Americans scored 18 goals in the group stage and allowed none — a first for the team in any World Cup.
Here’s what you need to know:
Read on for a recap of how the United States defeated Sweden.
Lloyd misses a chance to seal it!
That would have been the cherry on top: Lloyd slipping behind the Swedish defense for a free shot at Lindahl, but she hits it straight at the goalkeeper, who parries.
The chance is cleared but with the seven minutes of added time we just got, it’s surely not the last one we’ll see.
What’s next for the U.S. and Sweden if this score holds?
A win or a tie gives the United States first place in Group F and a date with Spain in Reims on Monday (noon Eastern) in the round of 16. That will please the tourism office in Reims, which Andrew Keh noted today already has enjoyed a United States fan invasion once in this World Cup. The news may be less good for Spain, for obvious reasons.
The game looming beyond that is the one that everyone is talking about, however. It’s the one that everyone has talked about since the draw in December, actually: United States vs. France, the host nation, in the quarterfinals. It’s a game worthy of a final, and someone will be very unhappy to lose it. But a draw’s a draw.
As the group runner-up in this scenario, Sweden would get the second-place finisher in Group E, likely Canada or the Netherlands. It’s not an easy matchup by any means, but it’s probably a more favorable than running into France.
(Reminder: Sweden can flip that entire script with a win tonight, in which case it will play Spain — and then maybe France. A tie won’t do it, because of the Americans’ vastly superior goal difference in the group stage.)
Brief delay for a head injury; Bjorn is down.
Sweden with a well-worked switch ends up with a cross, which O’Hara clears. But only after clanging heads with Bjorn in the center. She’s down, but soon rises and walks off.
Sadly, her treatment there appears to be the old, “You O.K.?” concussion test we all know well, and she sprints back on.
Christen Press coming on for Rose Lavelle.
Press, so good against Chile, replaces Lavelle, who was surprisingly sturdy and effective running the attack tonight.
Seger goes off for Sweden at the same time; that’s both captains now gone from this game.
Press, by the way, immediately took up a position ahead of Rapinoe, Lloyd and Heath. She might get that first goal she’s been seeking. Though it’s hard not to think that the United States doesn’t regret adding a second through all of its pressure.
A single mistake and the good feelings will fade.
Naeher quietly stares down another test.
The game has been moving away from her, but it’s worth noting that Alyssa Naeher has faced a couple of tough spots — three or four — and has handled each one. That’s good news for Ellis headed into the knockouts, since Naeher didn’t have much to do in the United States’ first two games.
That’s gone down as an own goal, actually.
Andersson, who deflected it, is credited with an own goal, but make no mistake: that’s only a goal because of Heath.
GOALLL! Heath doubles the U.S. leads with a rocket!
That came out of nowhere. An attack crumbles but the clearance was cycled to Rapinoe on the left. She drove a cross to Lloyd, who appeared offside, and it was cleared on to Heath at the back post.
She froze Andersson there, then with one quick motion pushed the ball right and roofed it — with the help of a deflection — over Lindahl.
(There’s a delay for video review, surely to check Lloyd’s contribution to the play, but the goal stands.)
Well that’s interesting: Lloyd on, Morgan off.
Unclear if Morgan picked up an injury — she did get kicked one — but Lloyd takes her place to start the second half. Kind of a nice card to play if you’re Jill Ellis: Lloyd is a former world player of the year, and she has three goals in this tournament through two games.
No subs for Sweden.
United States 1, Sweden 0
Sweden forced Naeher into a diving punch with a cross in added time, but it feels like 1-0 isn’t an accurate reflection of how well the United States controlled that half. They set the pace. They had the best chances, the best crosses. When they lost the ball, they just took it right back.
About the only thing that didn’t go better was the score. Sweden will be pleased to get a chance to regroup, and the get 15 minutes away from that ball-hawking pressure. But there will probably be more. And remember: Jill Ellis has fresh legs (Christen Press, Carli Lloyd< Mallory Pugh) straining to get into this one.
Sweden has six substitutes warming up. Changes coming at halftime?
Jakobsson and Asllani just had a nice exchange to get around the corner on the right wing, but Sweden — despite a couple of shots — has not been able to get out from under the unrelenting U.S. pressure.
Is Coach Peter Gerhardsson thinking about a switch at halftime? Who knows? But Jakobsson just stripped Dunn and rocketed a shot over the crossbar, so maybe Sweden’s players sense they better get something going.
Ball after ball scorched into the center.
The purpose that has made the United States the standout team of the group stage is on full display. Every ball is hit with intent, with power, with pace. Heath. Lavelle. Rapinoe. Mewis. All of them. They just look … dangerous. But the other thing about that kind of willful mentality — which has not been on display as completely even among the best teams here in France — is that players off the ball expect it.
Every ball is dangerous because there’s always someone running near post, or back post, or down the center channel, to meet it if it arrives.
Can the U.S. maintain this pace?
Yes, they’re winning every ball. Yes, they controlling it from sideline to sideline. But 90 minutes is a long time, and as the pace slows a bit here midway through the half, one can sense the Americans know going pedal to the pedal might have it own risks.
As if on cue, Sweden presses through Asllani, who fires a shot at Naeher from the right. She smothers that one just like the earlier one.
Hey look: Sweden is playing too!
Stina Blackstenius, the until-now-lonely center forward, takes Sweden’s first shot. But it’s from nearly 30 yards and, while hit with power, Naeher sees it all the way and smothers it.
Oddly, that might have been her first tough save of the tournament.
No letup. The United States is all over Sweden.
Dunn fires a shot from the edge of the area after Ertz and Lavelle both win the ball in midfield as Sweden somehow, some way tries to get control of the game. Ellis clearly sent her team out breathing fire, and it’s showing.
The U.S. also is racing forward whenever it can and stretching Sweden to its limit by switching the ball. They’re trying to pull open the middle for Morgan. Might just be a matter of time.
GOAL!!!! Wow. A stunning start and a goal for Horan.
The U.S. won its first corner off some early pressure, and it looked as if Rapinoe had wasted it with a bouncing ball to the near post. But Sam Mewis reached for it and no one touched it until Lindsey Horan stabbed it in from 2 yards.
Atrocious defending for the Swedes — several players and Lindahl just let the ball careen through the goal mouth — and a great start for the U.S. The goal was almost a carbon copy of Horan’s first of the tournament, against Thailand.
U.S. on the front foot early
Lavelle and Morgan took the opening kickoff and just started dribbling upfield. That’s quite the message: here we come. We dare you to stop us.
Even when the U.S. lost the ball, their pressure was apparent. They want it.
The starting lineups: Back to the regulars (except one)
Jill Ellis used Sunday’s game against Chile to make sure that every field player she brought to France could go home and say, “I got to play.” But Sweden, and the knockout games that will come next, require her A team. So that’s what she has run out there, with one exception:
Julie Ertz is out with a hip problem that U.S. Soccer says isn’t serious — “We had to chain her to the bench to keep her out of this,” one official said — but it is serious enough that it’s causing her to miss an important World Cup game.
So our official analysis is: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
Her role will be filled by Sam Mewis, who scored twice in the American’s opening game. Expect her to be the more defensively focused member of the U.S. midfield, allowing Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle to maraud. (UPDATE: Horan has dropped at times to allow Mewis and Lavelle to push forward.)
United States lineup: Alyssa Naeher; Crystal Dunn, Becky Sauerbrunn, Abby Dahlkemper, Kelley O’Hara; Samantha Mewis, Lindsey Horan, Rose Lavelle; Megan Rapinoe, Alex Morgan (captain), Tobin Heath.
Sweden lineup: Hedvig Lindahl; Nathalie Bjorn, Amanda Ilestedt, Linda Sembrant, Jonna Andersson; Julia Zigiotti, Caroline Seger (captain), Kosovare Asllani; Sofia Jakobsson, Stina Blackstenius, Olivia Schough.
Our referee tonight is Russian: Anastasia Pustovoytova.
The U.S. Lineup Resembles the One Against Thailand
The United States used two different lineups in its first two matches of the World Cup’s group stage. With the exception of Julie Ertz, who is injured, the starters Thursday against Sweden are the same as those in the match against Thailand, which the United States won, 13-0.
By The New York Times
World Cup style: a primer.
Allison McCann of The Times has an intriguing article out today about the World Cup, and players’ personal style. Not their playing style, but the hair and (yes, some wear it) makeup. It can be a touchy topic with women’s athletes — and men are no less vain, which anyone who has seen Cristiano Ronaldo knows — but the players Allison spoke with were quite frank: they see their personal style as an extension of themselves, and they don’t particularly care about the opinions of others on the topic.
“Some watching the World Cup seem perplexed that athleticism and femininity could coexist — Is Alex Morgan wearing makeup? Were Sydney Leroux’s eyelashes fake? — or in [Nigeria’s Francisca] Ordega’s case, they were irritated. It’s grounded in antiquated notions of how women, and specifically female athletes, should present themselves — strong but not too strong, athletic yet feminine, feminine but not so feminine that they would wear lipstick.”
It’s a good piece, and worth your time.
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