The stakes will be sky-high at Winnipeg Stadium Friday (8 p.m., FOX) as a win by the Americans will likely get them through to the knockout stage while a loss to the Swedes would put their hopes at advancing in serious jeopardy heading into the final Group D match.
The main subplot will revolve around Sweden head coach Pia Sundhage, who was the U.S. head coach from 2008-12 (including the 2011 World Cup). In a story published Wednesday by the New York Times, the iconic Swedish player managed to throw U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd, forward Abby Wambach and embattled goalkeeper Hope Solo all under the proverbial bus at the same time.
“Carli Lloyd was a challenge to coach,” said Sundhage. “When she felt that we had faith in her, she could be one of the best players, but if she began to question that faith, she could be one of the worst. It was delicate, so, so delicate.”
Sundhage also insinuated that Wambach was washed up and shouldn’t start anymore and that Solo was also a challenge to coach (not exactly breaking news there).
After an up-and-down, 3-1, opening win against Australia Monday, you can be sure that U.S. head coach Jill Ellis and her team are focused on having a more consistent effort from start to finish. The comments from Sundhage notwithstanding, it is not like the Americans needed much more motivation to beat Sweden, one of their fiercest rivals.
It would be interesting to know if the Swedish players appreciated Sundhage’s drama that she created with the U.S. Then again, it could be a classic case of a coach taking some pressure off of their team in a big spot.
Sweden has its own issues on the field to iron out after it blew a 2-0 lead and 3-2 advantage against Nigeria in its opener Monday. Sweden settled for a 3-3 tie. Sweden came into the match ranked fifth in the world by FIFA and Nigeria was 33rd, so from their perspective that had to be a disappointing result. Defenders provided both goals for Sweden: starter Nilla Fischer and Linda Sembrant, who was a second half substitute. Sweden’s other tally came courtesy of an “own goal” by Nigeria.
Meanwhile, U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe was great against Australia, scoring the first and third goals. In her World Cup debut, unheralded forward Christen Press also had a vital goal for the U.S., which gave them the 2-1 lead. Wambach had a couple chances that she typically buries and Alex Morgan came on in the 79th minute as she works her way back from a knee injury. Don’t be surprised to see one or both of those dangerous forwards find the back of the net against Sweden on Friday.