Ricardo Mazalan / AP
TOKYO – It was a devastating start to the Tokyo Olympics for the U.S. women’s football team. The United States, ranked number one and defending World Cup champions, faced a familiar foe: Sweden. And unfortunately for the United States, it was a familiar outcome. Sweden beat them 3-0.
At the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Sweden won against the United States in the quarter-finals, depriving the team of a medal. The United States entered these Games seeking to become the first women’s team to win Olympic gold after winning the World Cup.
Today’s loss to fifth-placed Sweden will make that feat more difficult, but does not rule it out.
The vast majority of the starting lineup in this game – seven out of 11 – were players who played in that 2016 game against Sweden. These include stars such as Alex Morgan and Kelley O’Hara.
Dan Mullan / Getty Images
The action took place in a nearly empty stadium, as Olympic events in Tokyo unfold without fans due to a state of emergency linked to the coronavirus. As the players warmed up, an announcer called out each of their names – and no cheers followed for superstars like Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle.
The stadium was so quiet that the press in the stands could actually hear clips of what the players were shouting at each other. The doors through which crowds usually enter were sealed and the only food that appeared to be available was sold in the media center.
In a normal Olympics, the first game of American women’s football would be played in front of a crowded stadium with crowds of fans from all over the world.
It was a most unusual game for the United States, who played without their usual attacking zeal. Sweden dominated the first half with strong offensive runs and several defensive saves. Sweden got on the board in the 25th minute when Stina Blackstenius headed the ball into the goal. Blur’s “Song 2” was surprising as it walked through the stadium, which was otherwise quiet, save for some applause in the press area.
The United States nearly equalized just before half-time when midfielder Lavelle narrowly missed a goal on the post.
At half-time, a video of a small group of cheering supporters arrived on the stadium’s jumbotron – almost highlighting their absence from the stadium.
The United States mixed their roster with two halftime substitutions, including defensive star Julie Ertz and veteran Carli Lloyd. Rapinoe was replaced about 10 minutes later. Still, Sweden scored two more times – with another goal from Blackstenius and one from Lina Hurtig.
In the group stage, the Americans will play two more matches – against Australia and New Zealand. The top two teams in their group of four will then advance to the round of 16.