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USWNT, Sweden showdown closes World Cup group stage

Orlando Sentinel logoOrlando Sentinel 6/20/2019 Alicia Delgallo
Christen Press, Alex Morgan are posing for a picture © Celso Junior

DEAUVILLE, France — The United States’ first real challenge of the World Cup has arrived.

Sweden awaits the U.S. women's national team in the final group stage of the 2019 Women's World Cup at 3 p.m. ET Thursday at Stade Océane. Fox will broadcast the match. The teams will play for first place in Group F, though both automatically will advance to the round of 16 as the top two contenders in the group with six points each.

The history between the U.S. and Sweden makes the match intriguing. Sweden knocked the U.S. out of the quarterfinals of the 2016 Olympics by hunkering in on defense and forcing a penalty shootout. Then-goalkeeper Hope Solo controversially called the Swedish players cowards after the match.

Various U.S. players have referenced that game over the years as a source of motivation.

"Despite the fact that it's been three years, you don't forget the taste in your mouth when you fail and when you lose in a world championship, and I think there's a little bit of that that definitely serves as motivation," U.S. forward Christen Press said Wednesday.

The teams have played once since then, June 8, 2017. The U.S. won 1-0 off a Rose Lavelle goal.

Before that game, however, the U.S. failed to beat Sweden in its previous four matchups: a 1-0 loss and 1-1 draw in the 2014 and 2013 Algarve Cup, respectively, a scoreless draw during group play of the 2015 World Cup and the 2016 Olympics loss.

Plus, the last USWNT loss in a World Cup was 2-1 against Sweden in 2011. The U.S. is 3-1-1 against Sweden all-time in World Cup play.

“I don’t think it’s their only goal to put us in our place, but I do think they want to show us they’ve changed," Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson said during a news conference Wednesday.

Sweden is ranked ninth in the world. The United States is No. 1. Gerhardsson said preparing to play the U.S. is difficult because there is no other team that compares, so he has to pull select clips from various games over the years to show his players.

"They are very special in the way they play," he said. "They don't look like Canada or France."

And one of the biggest U.S. strengths he's wary about is set pieces, calling them "one of their best qualities."

“And it’s not only that they have players who are good at headers,” he said. “They have courage in the whole team, and they’re the team that has the most variations as well. If we were to prepare for all the variations they have presented so far — they must have the thickest binder in the world when it comes to set-piece plays — we would do nothing but that.”

Sweden and the U.S. both had no trouble getting past Thailand and Chile in their opening matches of the World Cup. Sweden beat Thailand 5-1 and Chile 2-0. The U.S. defeated those teams 13-0 and 3-0, respectively.

Sweden is captained by Caroline Seger, and its leading scorer through World Cup qualifying and the first two matches of the tournament is Kosovare Asllani. Forward Madelen Janogy, who subbed on late and scored in the 94th minute of Sweden’s game against Chile, will miss the U.S. match due to muscle discomfort.

U.S. coach Jill Ellis said she expects a very intense, combative game with a lot of transition and fierce competition inside the 18-yard box on both ends of the field.

“It’s going to be a good game to really work on some of things that we need as we advance into the next round,” Ellis said. “Players and coaches are not focused on what was, we’re focused on what will be. It’s a different team. It’s a different time. The past is irrelevant.”

Related Slideshow: Best of the 2019 Women's World Cup (Provided by imagn) 

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