August 13, 2016 1:39:57 pm
There will be no fourth straight gold medal for the United States. The hopes of becoming the first team to win the Olympics following a World Cup are also dashed. Instead, the favored U.S. women’s football team heads home from Brazil without an Olympic medal for the first time. Alex Morgan’s eyes were red from tears following a quarterfinal loss to Sweden, which won 4-3 in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw on Friday. And goalkeeper Hope Solo was seething over Sweden’s tactics, calling the team “a bunch of cowards.”
“I was really optimistic. I didn’t even anticipate it going into penalties,” said Morgan, who scored the lone goal for the Americans but missed in the shootout. “But it just wasn’t our day.”
Sweden heads into a semifinal match against host Brazil in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday. Canada, the bronze medalists from London in 2012, will play Germany in Belo Horizonte.
The Germans defeated China 1-0 in Salvador, while the Canadians upset France 1-0 in Sao Paulo. The night was capped by Brazil’s 7-6 penalty shootout win after a scoreless draw against Australia in Belo Horizonte.
But there was no bigger upset in a long time than the U.S. loss to Sweden.
Solo, who had already been taunted mercilessly by the Brazilian fans over social media posts about the Zika virus, caused another stir in the aftermath of the loss by criticizing Sweden’s defensive stand against the top-ranked Americans.
“I think we showed a lot of heart. We came back from a goal down. I’m very proud of this team,” said Solo, considered one of the best goalkeepers ever in the women’s game. “I also think we played a bunch of cowards. The best team did not win today. I strongly and firmly believe that.”
Asked to clarify, she said: “Sweden dropped off. They didn’t want to open play,” Solo said. “They didn’t want to pass the ball. They didn’t want to play great football.”
Sweden coach Pia Sundhage, who coached the U.S. for five years and led the team to gold medals at both the Beijing and London Olympics, quipped: “It’s OK to be a coward if you win.”
Later, Solo went to Twitter with a mea culpa of sorts: “Losing sucks. I’m really bad at it.”
It was the first Olympic women’s match ever to go to penalties. The sport joined the Olympics at the 1996 Atlanta Games, with the U.S. winning the first gold medal. Only Norway has been able to stop the U.S. string of golds, winning at the 2000 Sydney Games. The Americans won the silver that year.
Tied after three rounds in the shootout of Friday’s match, Sweden captain Caroline Seger shot past Solo. U.S. forward Christen Press’ attempt then went over Hedvig Lindahl’s net. And with the next kick, Lisa Dahlkvist beat an outstretched Solo for the win.
“The game is the game, so I think tactically that’s the coach’s prerogative, the coach’s choice,” U.S. coach Jill Ellis said about Sweden’s defensive approach. “They look at their personnel and they determine a game plan based on that. And I think to take us to penalty kicks is probably a good strategy, because then it becomes a crapshoot, right?
“Can I criticize or knock someone for their tactics? No, that’s their choice.”
Sweden had won outright in only five prior matches against the United States. At last year’s World Cup, the two teams played to a scoreless draw. The last time the two teams met in the Olympics was at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Sundhage was a player on the Sweden team that fell 2-1 to the Americans.
The United States returns home now with two friendly matches set for September, the first against Thailand in Columbus, Ohio, on Sept. 15, followed by a meeting with the Netherlands in Atlanta on Sept. 18.
After Friday’s match, a reporter asked Morgan how big a “failure” the loss was.
“A big one,” Morgan bluntly replied before quietly walking away.
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