TOKYO (Japan): A pair of goals from Swedish forward Stina Blackstenius spelled catastrophe for the United States on Wednesday, as they suffered a shock 3-0 defeat in their Tokyo 2020 debut.
Fifth-ranked Sweden put the pressure on almost immediately with three shots in the first eight minutes, as the four-time Olympic gold medalists showed little sign of the stellar, 44-game unbeaten run they had enjoyed since 2019.
Forward Stina Blackstenius converted in the 25th minute, rocketing a header past U.S. keeper Alyssa Naeher with an assist from Sofia Jakobsson. The goalie had five saves in the first half as a dominant Swedish forward line crashed through the Americans’ defences.
Midfielder Rose Lavelle nearly equalised with a header in minute 45 off a corner kick from Christen Press but hit the post.
The addition of veteran midfielder Julie Ertz did little to revive the U.S. in the second half, as Blackstenius again scored in the 54th minute.
The match was personal for Team USA: The Swedes knocked the four-time World Cup winners out of the tournament on penalties in the quarter-finals in 2016.
But their much hoped-for revenge in front of 48,000 empty seats inside the Tokyo Stadium was not to be, as forward Christen Press missed a wide open net at close range midway through the second half.
Swedish midfielder Lina Hurtig then heaped on more pain with a clinical header to give her side a three-goal cushion a minute later, ending the United States’ hopes.
“We (have) developed our game and our play,” Blackstenius said after the match. “We have so much quality in every player. Every player is also very different from the other.”
The Rio defeat marked the U.S. team’s earliest exit in Olympic history, after previously reaching the final of every edition of the Games since 1996, when the women’s event was introduced.
The two sides drew 1-1 in an April friendly, the only blemish to the United States’ 2021 record of 11 wins in 12 matches and a prescient warning of the challenges the team would face in their 2020 Tokyo kickoff.
“We played a little bit tight and just hurt ourselves a lot,” said 2012 gold medallist and veteran forward Megan Rapinoe. “They took their chances, got into better space and inevitably scored more goals.”
The defeat was the United States’ first under head coach Vlatko Andonovski, who took over from Jill Ellis in 2019.
“It is a tough result, a tough situation to be in. I don’t remember this team has ever been in a situation like that,” he told reporters after the match. “It is a bit of a shock but everyone is positive. We still have games ahead of us.”
The pandemic-postponed Games kicked off earlier Wednesday with a victory for the Olympic hosts, as Japan’s softball team walloped Australia 8-1 at the Fukushima Azuma Baseball Stadium.
The United States next face New Zealand in the group stage, while Sweden play Australia, both on Saturday.