No. 1 USWNT takes on their forever nemesis, No. 3 Sweden, in the FIFA Women’s World Cup (WWC) Round of 16
⚽️ The matchup
The GIST: Like an ex who won’t stop sending “u up” texts, the pestering Swedes are back on their bullsh!t, sending American heart rates soaring and disrupting sleep schedules nationwide.
- Given the chaos of the tournament, FIFA rankings are essentially useless, so we can look past the Americans’ No. 1 seed and admit they’re in an unfamiliar underdog position heading into this match following their uninspiring group stage performance compared to Sweden’s dominant one.
The history: When it comes to major tournaments, these two teams just can’t quit each other. The USWNT has faced Sweden seven times in WWC play, emerging victorious in four games. But, this will be the first knockout stage meeting. Not not nervous.
- Plus, Sweden has owned the red, white, and blue on the Olympic stage. They knocked the Americans out of the 2016 Olympics (the only major tournament history the USWNT didn’t make the semis), and thrashed the Americans 3–0 in the Tokyo 2020 Oympics opening match, something head coach Vlatko Andonovski knows all too well.
The significance: The lowest the USWNT has ever finished at a World Cup is third. The two-time defending champs bowing out in the Round of 16 would be historic for all the wrong reasons.
That said, this tournament has been full of wonderful surprises, and it’s strange that the U.S. advancing to the quarter-finals could be among them.
SOURCE: ULRIK PEDERSEN/DEFODI IMAGES VIA GETTY IMAGES
Lessons from the group stage: Let’s get this out of the way: the Americans played like “crap” in their group stage finale 0–0 draw against No. 21 Portugal. And they know it.
- So what’s the solution? At the risk of sounding like a broken record, they need to finish in the attacking third of the field, get shots on target and, we wish it went without saying, score.
- Shot efficiency aside, it’s the struggling American midfield that deserves the most scrutiny. Vlatko’s conservative defensive approach has technically worked, but it also leaves a gaping hole in the midfield.
Players to watch: Well, first one you won’t see: Midfielder Rose Lavelle will miss the must-win game after accumulating two yellow cards in the group stage. That alone provides reason to adjust the midfield — *cough* finally move Julie Ertz off the back line *cough* — tomorrow.
- Back in the defense, the USWNT’s standout player has been center back Naomi Girma, playing with wisdom and poise beyond her 23 years.
Keys to success: This team is seriously lacking in on-field chemistry — they need to play with fluidity and confidence instead of incoherence and panic. Less complacency, more defender Kelley O’Hara energy, please.
Tactically, something has to give in the midfield — this 4-3-3 formation and current rotation simply isn’t working. Has Vlatko been waiting for the knockout round to change things up? Are we being Punk’d? Time will tell.
🇸🇪 The opponent: Sweden
SOURCE: CATHERINE IVILL/GETTY IMAGES
The team: The 2020 Olympic runners-up Swedes look hungry sailing through the group stage with three wins. Notably, Sweden’s played the most WWC games (40) of any team without winning the entire thing. Always the bridesmaid…
Players to watch: Versatile forward Fridolina Rolfö is one of the most dangerous players in women’s fútbol, seamlessly moving between positions to create chances and score goals.
- And it’s not just the attack that can get it done — one of the team’s top goal scorers of the tourney is defender Amanda Ilestedt, who notched a brace in their 5–0 group stage win over No. 16 Italy.
Keys to success: The Blue and Yellow were lethally efficient on goal during the group stage, scoring nine times in 16 shots on frame. In addition to finishing in the final third, this team’s also known for their physicality and on-target passing — all the things that, until recently, were hallmarks of the American game.
In order to advance to the quarter-finals, all the Swedes need to do is keep it consistent — and hope the U.S. continues to be their own worst enemy.