Sweden laid down an early marker in the women’s Olympic football competition, hammering the US Women’s National Team 3-0 on Wednesday.
Stina Blackstenius’ brace and Lina Hurtig’s thumping header gave Sweden a deserved victory, with the US looking a shadow of the side that won the World Cup two years ago.
Sweden was unquestionably the better team from the first whistle to the last and the USWNT, which came into this Olympics as a strong favorite, has much to improve on in the coming games against New Zealand and Australia should it want to win a fifth gold medal.
This historic result for Sweden will give the team confidence it can go one better than Rio 2016, where it fell to Germany at the final hurdle in the gold medal match.
For the US, the defeat ends a 44-game unbeaten run – 40 wins and four draws – that had stretched all the way back to January 2019 when it lost 3-1 to France in a friendly.
Sweden got the better of the US the last time these two teams met on the Olympic stage, coming out on top after a penalty shootout in the quarterfinals five years ago in Brazil.
Becky Sauerbrunn told the Guardian that defeat was “one of the worst results that the senior national team has had in a major tournament,” saying it provided extra motivation going into the victorious 2019 World Cup campaign and this Olympics.
However, there wasn’t much sign of that motivation during the opening exchanges of the match in Tokyo’s Ajinomoto Stadium – before which both teams took a knee in the empty arena – as Sweden exerted its dominance from the opening whistle.
The Swedes soon got the goal their early play deserved as Sofia Jakobsson’s whipped cross was glanced home brilliantly by Blackstenius at the near post after 25 minutes.
The US had barely managed to get out of its own half in this opening 45 minutes, much less get any sort of foothold in the game, with Sweden enjoying more than 60% of possession.
Blackstenius had a wonderful opportunity to double Sweden’s lead just before the break, controlling a long pass brilliantly on her chest but just getting the ball stuck under her feet to allow US keeper Alyssa Naeher to come out and smother the chance.
Given the extent of the talent in the US squad, however, it was always going to be unlikely Sweden could contain its opponents for the entire half. It was Rose Lavelle who had the chance to equalize, but her header from a long ball into the box crashed against the outside of the post.
That it was the reigning world champion’s only real chance of note in the first half was a testament to Sweden’s superiority, the yellow shirts swarming the US players in midfield and not allowing them a moment to relax on the ball.
The only negative from Sweden’s perspective was that it had only managed to open up a one-goal lead – would the team rue that profligacy in front of goal?
USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski made two substitutions at the start of the second half, with the vastly experienced Carli Lloyd and Julie Ertz coming on to replace Alex Morgan and Samantha Mewis.
Ertz seemed to immediately breath new life into the US team, but just when it looked like the momentum of the game was shifting, Sweden doubled its advantage.
Blackstenius this time picked up the scraps at the far post after a Swedish corner caused mayhem in the US box and poked the ball past Naeher into the roof of the net.
From there, it only got worse for the US team.
After substitute Megan Rapinoe hit the post when she perhaps she should have scored, Sweden put an exclamation mark next to its performance as Hurtig rose high in the box to head home from Hanna Glas’ cross.
The camera cut to the US bench where a bemused Andonovski sat helplessly on the bench.
He now has plenty to ponder now ahead of the tough upcoming fixtures against New Zealand and Australia should the US want to avoid a shock early exit.