Thursday, July 7, 2011

Dahlkvist, Fischer lead Sweden to 2-1 win over US

WOLFSBURG, Germany — Fasten the seatbelts and hang on, the U.S. women are taking a detour.
And just like everything else they've done recently, it's going to be a bumpy one.
The Americans will have to play Brazil, runner-up at the last three major tournaments, and five-time FIFA player of the year Marta in the quarterfinals after faltering against Sweden on Wednesday night. Needing only a tie to avoid the Brazilians, the Americans lost 2-1 on two set pieces.
It was the first loss in World Cup group play for the Americans, and their fourth loss since November.
"Of course we wanted to go out first in our group and we didn't," said Abby Wambach, who got the Americans back in the game on a shoulder, er, header, in the 67th minute. "We have to turn something that's perceived as a negative into a positive. ... I think it's a really cool challenge to face Brazil."
This was not the original gameplan, however.
Then again, nothing about the last year has gone according to plan.
The Americans rolled into regional World Cup qualifying on a two year-plus winning streak, unbeaten since the opening game at the Beijing Olympics. But they were stunned by Mexico in the semifinals, a team that had been 0-24-1 against the Americans, forcing them into a playoff against Italy just to get to Germany.
The Americans then lost to Sweden in the opener of the Four Nations tournament in January, and dropped their first game to England since 1988.
"We think the road to the top of the World Cup podium is going to be difficult," Wambach said. "That's the kind of journey it's been so far, so why change things now?"
Despite some struggles with finishing, the Americans had cruised through their first two games. But neither North Korea nor Colombia is anywhere near the caliber of Sweden, and the U.S. quickly found itself on its heels.
"We have great respect for the U.S. team but, at the same time, we know we're good, too," Lotta Schelin said.
With German chancellor Angela Merkel watching with the German squad, Schelin and Josefine Oqvist made easy work of the clunky U.S. defense. The game wasn't even 10 minutes old when Schelin threatened on a breakaway, forcing U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo to make an impressive save.
In the 14th minute, Amy LePeilbet tripped Schelin in the box to give Sweden a penalty kick. Solo dived in full stretch, but Lisa Dahlkvist curled the ball into the left side of the net just beyond the fingertips. The goal snapped Solo's scoreless streak at 796 minutes, second longest in U.S. history. It also ended a run of eight shutouts, dating back to March 2010.
Sweden got a free kick in the 35th minute after Rachel Buehler was whistled for dragging down Therese Sjogran about 25 yards out. Nilla Fischer hammered a free kick that ricocheted off LePeilbet's thigh and Solo, already moving in the opposite direction to her left, was stranded.
"It was very unfortunate," Solo said. "I felt like I didn't have a chance to make a play on them, and that's frustrating."
The U.S. pulled back a goal in the 67th when Wambach headed — actually, it was more shouldered — in a corner kick from Lauren Cheney with an assist from the head of Sweden's Fischer. It was the first goal of the tournament for Wambach and her 10th overall at the World Cup, second among Americans to the 12 scored by Michelle Akers.
"Like I said, if I score and we don't win, I won't be happy," said Wambach, who played despite missing the previous two days of practice with tendinitis in her right Achilles' tendon.
The Americans pushed hard for the equalizer, repeatedly forcing Hedvig Lindahl to bat balls down or make saves. She punched away a hard shot by Megan Rapinoe in the 54th after Rapinoe neatly sidestepped Sara Thunebro, and World Cup rookie Kelly O'Hara missed a wide-open net from about 8 yards in the 86th.
In the first half, Lindahl punched away Cheney's cross to Wambach at the far post in the 29th minute. Three minutes later, Amy Rodriguez had a gimme chip over Lindahl, only to see it bang off the crossbar.
"Until the referee blew the whistle, I really thought we were going to equalize," Wambach said.
Instead, the Americans must prepare for Brazil.
If they're flustered or disappointed by the change in plans, they weren't showing it. After the game, U.S. coach Pia Sundhage was already talking to her team about playing in the final, a turnaround from the "next game" philosophy the Americans had in the opening round.
"My glass is half-full," Sundhage said. "Even though we lost, we can come out as a winner if we take a different path. ... It's a little bit different for me to talk about the final even though we have two more games. That's what it takes when we take a different road."

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