By Andrew Downie

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo called Sweden "a bunch of cowards" after they knocked the United States out of the Olympic women's football tournament on penalties on Friday.

"I think we showed a lot of heart," Solo told Sports Illustrated after the Europeans moved into the semi-final 4-3 on penalties. "We came back from a goal down. I'm very proud of this team.

"But I also think we played a bunch of cowards," she said. "The best team did not win today," she told the sports magazine, later confirming in a Tweet that she had made the comments after the match in Brasilia.

"Sweden dropped off. They did not want open play. They didn't want to pass the ball. They didn't want to play great soccer," she said.

"losing sucks. I'm really bad at it," Solo said in her tweet confirming and resending the comments she made to Sports Illustrated.

The United States were the better team throughout but Alex Morgan and Christen Press missed penalties after the game ended 1-1 after extra time.

It was the first time that the United States have not reached the Olympic final.

"The best teams in the world have to deal with inferior opposition that bunkers in and defends," former U.S. men's captain Alexei Lalas said in a tweet. "But they don't call them cowards."

Solo has regularly courted controversy and Friday's incident was not even her first in these Olympics. The Washington-born keeper was booed mercilessly by Brazilian fans angry at her comments on the Zika virus.

Several athletes chose not to come to Brazil citing Zika scares and Solo posted pictures on social media wearing a mosquito mask over her face and carrying industrial quantities of repellent.

She also indulged in what appeared to be blatant gamesmanship on Friday by calling for a new set of gloves immediately before Sweden's decisive penalty.

Solo, who played her 200th international last week, played well in her opening two games, with wins over New Zealand and France, but had a nightmare in the 2-2 draw against Colombia and was at fault for both goals.

She had little to do against Sweden as the United States struggled to break down their opponents, who tried to hit them on the break.

Stina Blackstenius put Sweden ahead on Friday after 61 minutes but the United States equalised 16 minutes later through Alex Morgan.

Neither side could find a winner in extra time and the Swedes qualified to meet either Brazil or Australia in the semi-final.

(Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Andrew Hay)