TOKYO: United States captain Becky Sauerbrunn said the pain of their 2016 Olympic quarter-final loss to Sweden was driving her on ahead of the opening game between the two countries at the Tokyo Games.
Sauerbrunn was part of the team beaten on penalties by Sweden five years ago in Brazil, a loss that snapped a run of three successive Olympic titles for the US. “I think what happened in 2016 was one of the worst results the senior national team has had in an international tournament,” Sauerbrunn told a news conference Tuesday.
“For me it lit a fire going into 2019 and 2020… and going into this. It’s rich that we get to play them (Sweden) in our first game.” Wednesday’s match at Tokyo Stadium will be the ninth meeting between the two nations at the World Cup or Olympics, making Sweden the Americans’ most frequent foe at a major tournament.
“Sweden in general is just a great squad so I’m excited we get to see them again,” said Sauerbrunn, set to win her 189th international cap. “They’ve got dynamic forwards. I’m just really looking forward to the battle. They’re special players, (Stina) Blackstenius, (Sofia) Jakobsson, (Lina) Hurtig…”
The US have won four of six gold medals since the introduction of women’s football to the Olympic programme in 1996, and also finished runners-up to Norway in 2000. Megan Rapinoe is arguably the most recognisable member of a 22-player squad that also includes Alex Morgan, who gave birth to her first child in May of last year.
Coach Vlatko Andonovski has won 22 of 23 games since replacing Jill Ellis in October 2019. The US have conceded just four goals in that time, with Sweden accounting for three of them. The Skopje-born Andonovski began his tenure with a 3-2 victory over the Swedes in Columbus, while the most recent encounter resulted in a 1-1 draw in Stockholm in April when Rapinoe equalised with a late penalty.
“I think our team is very fortunate to have played as many games as we have,” said the 36-year-old Sauerbrunn, a two-time World Cup champion and 2012 Olympic gold medallist. “It’s hard to replicate a game scenario. It has allowed us to form chemistry and work on tactics and dig down into those details that are so important.
“(But) going into a tournament you never know what’s going to happen.” After dumping the US out in Brazil, Sweden scraped past the hosts in another shootout to reach the final before losing 2-1 to Germany.
Sweden’s run to the semi-finals of the 2019 World Cup secured their ticket to Tokyo, where they will be led by the vastly experienced Caroline Seger, the nation’s all-time record holder with 215 international appearances.
“The US brings the best when they need to be the best,” said Seger. “It’s going to be a very tough game for us tomorrow but we’re going to be prepared.” Sweden have held their own against the US in recent times, with seven of the past eight clashes decided by one goal or fewer.
“I just know that all the games we’ve played against them we’ve been very good,” said Seger. “We know we have to be prepared for those games and step up to a level that is very high. It’s going to be very intense.”
Australia take on New Zealand in the other game in Group G, with the top two from each of the three sections advancing to the quarter-finals along with two third-placed sides. Reigning champions Germany failed to qualify for the tournament, while Japan returned as hosts after missing out on the 2016 edition.
Great Britain will field a team composed primarily of England players, with European champions and World Cup finalists the Netherlands making their Olympic debut. Chile and Zambia are also participating for the first time, as China, Brazil and 2016 bronze medallists Canada complete the 12-team competition.