Both the United States and Sweden will advance to the Women’s World Cup knockout stage regardless of the result of Thursday’s final group-stage match. So why is it important? Two reasons.
The first is seeding for a potential championship run. One of these teams will win Group F and face Spain, the world’s 13th-ranked team, in the round of 16, followed by the prospect of France, the world’s No. 4 team, in the quarterfinals. The other team will be Group F’s runner-up and face either No. 5 Canada or No. 8 Netherlands, and then likely No. 2 Germany. The easier path is in the eye of the beholder. It might be nice to stay away from Germany, which won the Olympic gold medal in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro. It also might be nice to avoid host France, considered one of the tournament favorites.
And yet the Americans have rejected the idea of easing up.
“For us to throw a game and not want to win right before a knockout round,” defender Crystal Dunn said, “is crazy.”
As center back Abby Dalhkemper added, “It’s in our team’s DNA to want to win.”
Bragging rights are the second reason. Simply, the Americans and the Swedes don’t care for one another (on the pitch). In Rio, Sweden knocked out the United States in the quarterfinals by playing conservatively on offense in an effort to push the game to a shootout. It worked, and Sweden won on penalties. U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo called the Swedes “a bunch of cowards” for employing the tactic. Sweden’s coach responded, “I don’t give a crap.”
Players on both sides leading up to this match have had plenty of time to refresh their memories.
“Just that feeling, it still hasn’t left,” American midfielder Allie Long said.
“They don’t have that mental advantage they had before,” Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl said of the Americans.
The U.S. is far ahead on goal differential and would win the group with a victory or a draw against Sweden.
What you need to know
When: Thursday, 3 p.m. Eastern.
Where: Stade Oceane, Le Havre.
TV: Fox, Telemundo.
Streaming: Fox Sports.
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