An Olympic soccer game on Saturday mornings at 4:30 is a must-see TV.
The match between the United States and New Zealand is a win-win situation for the Americans after their real collapse in the first match of the Tokyo Games on Wednesday. The United States defeated Sweden 3–0 unbeaten in 44 matches.
The lifeless performance put the gold medal favorite and the defending world champion in danger of an unimaginable early exit. The top two teams from the group stage advance to the quarter-finals, so the United States can risk nothing less than a win against ninth-placed Australia on Saturday and again on Tuesday.
“I know they will be out for revenge, and we will be the target,” said Ali Riley, a Stanford graduate who plays for New Zealand.
Since women’s football became an Olympic sport in 1996, Americans have always progressed beyond the group stage. Only once have they failed to reach the final, and that was in 2016 when they lost to Sweden in the quarter-finals.
The American is looking for the unprecedented feat of winning an Olympic title after winning her fifth gold medal and the Women’s World Cup.
But after being beaten by a stronger, faster and better organized Swedish side, the United States needs a complete reboot to reach the quarter-finals.
“You drop points at the start of the tournament and now you’re in do or die mode, so you have to take points otherwise we’re going home early and we don’t want to do that,” star Megan Rapinoe told reporters.
Stina Blackstenius scored a goal in each half as Sweden took advantage of the right flank of the American defense with an attack after attack on fullback Kristal Dunn.
On the other hand, the offensive strikers of the Americans were silenced as Sweden’s dominance in the midfield did not allow the United States to expose itself to several serious threats.
Speaking of the win, Swedish goalkeeper Hedwig Lindahl offered a reminder that losing the tournament opener does not automatically spell doom.
“You can go very far in a tournament even if you lose to USA or whatever you play in the first game, so I don’t know how much that means,” she said. “But we showed the world and ourselves that we can play well against a team like America and any team.”
Can New Zealand do the same Saturday?
The Ferns lost 2-1 to rivals Australia on Wednesday and are considered the softest team in Group G. But here’s the nonsense: Football’s fickle nature produces strange results.
A tie against the United States is not out of the question, although the Americans destroyed New Zealand 5–0 in the May exhibition. They beat New Zealand 4–0 at the Beijing Games and 2–0 at the Rio Olympics.
US captain Becky Sauerbrunn and her teammates did not pay attention to the shoddy performance on Wednesday. He didn’t have time for emotional outbursts with two pressure games over the next six days.
Sauerbrunn relayed American coach Wlatko Andonovsky’s postgame message to his players: “We found ourselves in this mess and now it’s our responsibility to get ourselves out of it.”
Sauerbrunn said: “It’s going to be a tough road, but I believe we can do it.”
US forward Kristen Press, who starred at Stanford with American fullback Kelly O’Hara and Riley, said the players knew winning the gold medal would not be easy.
“We weren’t going to air six games no matter what, so here we are,” she told reporters.
They are here, but for how long?