The United States women’s soccer team had come on strong to beat Australia in its opening 2015 Women’s World Cup match but proved unable to find a way past Sweden and former coach Pia Sundhage on Friday. In an even encounter in Winnipeg, both teams had chances to get the three points, but some adept goalkeeping from Sweden’s Hedvig Lindahl and a crucial header up onto her own crossbar by U.S. defender Megan Klingenberg ensured the defenders remains on top and that the match finished goalless.
There was extra motivation for the U.S. following some inflammatory comments about Carli Lloyd and Hope Solo in the buildup to the match from Sundhage, who coached the Americans to Olympic gold in 2008 and 2012 before taking over her home country. But it was Sundhage’s current team that began on top, with the U.S. encountering many of the same issues that had been present in a particularly poor opening half against Australia.
But as the match in front of a pro-American crowd at Winnipeg Stadium wore on it was the U.S. on the front foot and Sweden trying to strike on the counter-attack. Yet, despite the some inspired moments of creativity from Megan Rapinoe, the U.S. could not find a goal that would have ensured its progress from Group D. While the U.S. looked stronger defensively, with Julie Johnston outstanding, it again looked tepid in attack. Abby Wambach started on the bench, as again did Alex Morgan, but even the prolific pair’s introduction late on couldn’t force a winning goal.
Jill Ellis’ team will now go into its final group match against Nigeria on Tuesday needing a win to guarantee finishing top and thus likely ensuring a more straightforward route through to the tournament’s latter stages. Meanwhile, after a disappointing opening 3-3 draw with Nigeria, Sweden can be pleased with a much improved performance. Still, they will take on an Australia team sitting on three points, also on Tuesday, needing a win to ensure a place in the Round of 16.
Sweden, ranked fifth in the world, had been tormented by the pace of Nigeria’s attack in its opening World Cup match, but they started well on this occasion, dominating possession in the early going. And the semifinalists at Euro 2013 will surely feel that they should have been handed a golden chance to take the lead. Midway through the opening half, Swedish midfielder Caroline Seger had a shot clearly blocked by the arm of U.S. forward Sydney Leroux as it was coming away from her body in the box, yet no penalty kick was awarded.
It wasn’t until the second half that the match really began to open up to any degree. And as happened against Australia and has been a recurring theme over the years, the U.S. increasingly took control as the match wore on. Sweden still threatened on the break and greater precision with its final ball from Lotta Schelin and others could have put the Americans in real trouble. But chances were increasingly coming for the U.S., only for poor finishing to let the 2011 runners-up down. In the space of three minutes Sydney Leroux sent a half-volley high into the stands, Wambach saw a diving header into the ground well tipped over by Lindahl while Lloyd failed to make clean contact with a header six yards from goal.
The closest that the near 33,000 fans in attendance came to witnessing a goal, though, was at the other end. With 13 minutes remaining Seger struck a shot off a corner that had beaten Solo and was heading for the top corner of the net, only for Klingenberg to leap and get enough of her head on it to take it onto the crossbar and to safety. Perhaps neither side, then, will be too disappointed with a result that leaves everything still to play for heading into the final round of matches in the so-called “group of death.”