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July 6, 2011
U.S. Women lose to Sweden, face Brazil in WWC Quarters

The end of Abby Wambach’s scoring drought was small consolation as the U.S. fell 2-1 to Sweden in Wednesday’s Group C finale.
The end of Abby Wambach’s scoring drought was small consolation as the U.S. fell 2-1 to Sweden in Wednesday’s Group C finale.
Linda Cuttone/Sports Vue Images
WOLFSBURG, Germany—All the U.S. Women needed on Wednesday was a win or draw against Sweden to win Group C and advance to a relatively sure-thing quarterfinal match against Australia. But they couldn’t pull it off, falling 2-1 at Volkswagen Arena and setting themselves up for a Sunday knockout match against Group D champions and tournament favorites Brazil (11 am ET, ESPN).

The loss was the first the U.S. has ever suffered in group play at the Women’s World Cup, and left them at 2-1-0 (6 pts) after three games.

Sweden (3-0-0, 9 pts) exploited flaws in the U.S. defense for two quick goals, a penalty kick by Lisa Dahlkvist in the 16th minute and Nilla Fischer’s deflected free kick in the 35th. if there was a bright spot for the US Women, it was Abby Wambach’s 67th-minute header goal, which not only gave a glimmer of hope through the closing minutes of the match, but also snapped a personal scoring drought for the U.S. striker dating to November 2010.

From the start, the US backline was no match for Sweden’s blistering attack. Lotte Schelin was the first to exploit the weakness, picking off Carli Lloyd’s pass and charging into the penalty area two steps ahead of the three U.S. backliners in the seventh minute. Only a heroic foot save by Hope Solo and a lucky bounce when the rebound caromed off a defender kept the Swedes off the board.

The Americans weren’t so lucky in the 16th minute, when Schelin beat Amy LePeilbet to the top edge of the box, only to be pulled down from behind. LePeilbet was probably lucky to escape with a yellow card, but Lisa Dahlkvist made short work of the penalty kick, slapping a rising shot into the left side of the net and snapping Solo’s personal shutout streak at 797 minutes.

Hard luck continued to dog LePeilbet through the remainder of the half. In the 35th minute, Nilla Fischer’s 25-yard free kick, awarded after Rachel Buehler fouled Therese Sjogren, deflected off LePeilbet and into the left side of the net, catching Solo leaning the other way.

Lack of speed hindered the U.S. attack as well. Balls from midfield down the right flank repeatedly ran too long, with Megan Rapinoe on the field in place of explosive – but injured – winger Heather O’Reilly.

Nevertheless, the U.S. women weren’t without their chances before the intermission. Indeed, Lauren Cheney forced netminder Hedvig Lindahl to make the first save of the match in just the fifth minute, and Abby Wambach – a surprise starter after sitting out the last two days of practice with pain in her Achilles tendon – got in close to send Lindahl to the base of the left post in the 13th. Cheney and Carli Lloyd offered hopeful balls from distance but little to seriously challenge the Swedish defense.

The USA’s two best chances to take a goal back before the intermission came from Amy Rodriguez, who caught Lindahl off her line in the 32nd minute but chipped the ball off the top of the crossbar, and Lloyd, who got onto the rebound of Wambach’s weak shot in the 41st, but Lindahl punched the ball out of danger.

After the intermission, the Swedes took a more defensive stance, and the U.S. stepped up the pressure. Shannon Boxx tested Lindahl from distance in the 50th minute, creating a golden opportunity as the Swedish ‘keeper bobbled the ball, but was able to regain possession just ahead of Wambach. Three minutes later, Lindahl stretched to palm Rapinoe’s sharply-angled shot away from the net. Boxx tried another long shot off the rebound, but could not find the target.

Another Lindahl fumble, on Lloyd’s 25-yard free kick at the hour mark, also left the ball loose for a time in the penalty area, but no one was there to capitalize. Finally, in the 67th minute, Wambach rose from a crowd off the far post to direct Cheney’s corner kick into the net for the only U.S. goal. Alex Morgan, who replaced Rodriguez at halftime, created the opportunity, running onto Christie Rampone’s leading ball and cutting in along the right endline, forcing her defender to clear the ball over the line.

Morgan continued to be dangerous, with several solo runs into the box, but was not able to reach either leading ball before Lindahl. Another U.S. sub, Kelly O’Hara, who entered the match for Rapinoe in the 73rd minute, appeared ready to play the World Cup heroine, when Cheney found her open in front of the net with a seeing-eye ball from deep on the left side, but the tournament debutante sent her shot wide of the right post.

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