A loss to Sweden was certainly not the way the USA had hoped to enter the knockout stageHaving never lost a World Cup group match carries quite a heavy burden. After being outplayed and subsequently beaten by Sweden on Wednesday, the U.S. women's national team no longer has that pressure to deal with.
It instead has to deal with its unfortunate immediate future, a future that holds a quarterfinal match with Brazil this Sunday. Despite the difficult path that lies ahead, head coach Pia Sundhage is confident that her team can rebound and that its focus is on beating the South Americans and eventually reaching the final.
"What we will talk about from now on is playing in the final," said Sundhage. "In order to play in the final we need to step up and be sharper with our chances. We start with Brazil. That will motivate the players more and this is a big chance."
The loss to Sweden, not only ended the USA's impressive run in the group stage but also acted as a reality check for a team that may not be as good as its No. 1 world ranking suggests. Holes on the left side of the pitch and worrying finishing were masked in the first two matches of the tournament, but against a caliber of opponent like the Scandanavians, the Americans were exposed.
Sundhage contests that if her team shows more composure in the match ahead, things could end differently.
"We could have been a little bit more patient, especially in the attacking third," said Sundhage of the 2-1 loss. "We were too eager to play the ball into the box and we could have fought to get to the endline a little more. At times we knocked it around quite a bit in the midfield but we could have created have bigger chances by fighting to the endline and playing from there."
With the likes of Marta and Cristiane scoring almost at will for the Brazilian side, the U.S. will have no room for error on Sunday. The duo are known for their flair on the ball and for creating impressive team goals. Against Sweden, the USA may have lost the match, but it didn't allow a goal from live play as both tallies were set pieces, something captain Christie Rampone is quite pleased with.
"They put pressure on us and got two goals on set pieces," said Rampone. "We’ll have to work on that, but it’s positive we didn’t give up anything in the run of play. We definitely had a great second half and came after it, but we were unlucky not to get that second goal. We played our style in the second half, we just didn’t have enough time."Losing at this stage in the tournament is a new thing for the USA, that much we know for sure. The impact of the loss, however, has been turned into something positive, as you might expect from a team coached by the unequivocally optimistic Sundhage.
"I don’t think this is really going to affect us," Rampone said of losing to Sweden. "The way that we ended the game and how positive the team felt about how we played in the second half, we need to take that momentum going forward."
Slated for 11 a.m. ET on Sunday, the USA-Brazil quarterfinal will air live on ESPN.Follow Goal.com on to get the latest soccer news directly. Check out Goal.com's page; be part of the best soccer fan community in the world!