Live Updates: Sweden Leads U.S. in Olympic Soccer Opener

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July 21, 2021, 5:28 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

All seven of Sweden’s subs stayed out at halftime, loosening up for potential work in the second half. The United States, meanwhile, retreated to the locker room en masse to discuss what went wrong.

Two players have suddenly returned, though, to loosen up ahead of the others, and they are an intriguing pair: Carli Lloyd and Julie Ertz.

July 21, 2021, 5:26 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

If it feels unusual to watch the United States get bossed around for a half, well, it should. It doesn’t happen often. But Sweden’s tactics — pressuring Crystal Dunn’s side with Sofia Jakobsson and others again and again, and then using slashing cuts and leading balls down the center to split the stretched defense — have left the Americans on their heels again and again. Naeher has come up big a few times, but the U.S. attack has been invisible, and because of that the defense just can’t seem to get its footing and shrug off the pressure, which has been relentless.

July 21, 2021, 5:19 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

HALFTIME. That whistle might be a relief for the United States, which was on its heels for nearly the entire half and — despite Lavelle’s late header off the post — is probably lucky to go in at 1-0.

July 21, 2021, 5:22 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

Megan Rapinoe, who watched the first half from the bench, bolted out of her seat and sprinted to the mouth of the tunnel to intercept the American starters as they walked off the field. She then stood there and high-fived each one as they headed for the locker rooms. Could she come on and make a difference in the second half? It’s clear the U.S. needs to make some tweaks.

July 21, 2021, 5:18 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

45′ Oooooh that was close! O’Hara drives a screamer from just inside Sweden’s half, a hopeful ball that turns into a better and better one with every inch closer to Rose Lavelle. Lavelle, streaking in at the left post, meets it as it falls with a powerful header that beats Lindahl — and then dings off the left post and back out.

That’s the best U.S. chance of the half by far.

July 21, 2021, 5:17 a.m. ET

Sofia Jakobsson of Sweden tackled Kelley O'Hara of the United States in Sweden’s game against the US in April.
Credit…Linnea Rheborg/Getty Images

This game feels, oddly, a lot like the teams’ meeting in April in Stockholm, when Sweden scored on a near-post header in the first half and controlled the game for most of the night. That is, until Megan Rapinoe arrived in the nick of time (from the Americans’ perspective) to snatch a late penalty and a 1-1 tie.

Sweden surely left the stadium that night feeling good about its efforts against a team as good as the United States — just as it must about its first half today — and perhaps a little aggrieved that it didn’t finish off its win.

That game is the only one under Vlatko Andonovski, out of 23 matches, that ended in anything but a U.S. victory. The Americans have not lost to anyone at all since January 2019.

July 21, 2021, 5:15 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

43′ Blackstenius gallops into open space behind the U.S. defense, glides under a beautifully delivered long ball from the right side and controls it with her chest into the box. It looked like a sure goal, but her final touch in the box was not particularly clean. The ball gets stuck under her foot, giving Naeher an opening to swoop in and grab it before any damage can be done. It could have been 2-0 there.

July 21, 2021, 5:09 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

38′ Some delicate footwork by O’Hara at the top of Sweden’s penalty area leaves her defender chasing shadows and O’Hara a free look at a cross. Lindahl, however, gobbles it up before it can cause trouble.

July 21, 2021, 5:08 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

37′ Alex Morgan was in a good deal of pain after being wiped out from behind by a Swedish player. She had her face in her hands, before her teammates helped peel her off the grass. She seems to be OK now.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
July 21, 2021, 5:03 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

31′ A hydration break may be exactly what the doctor ordered for Vlatko Andonovski and the U.S. He’s in the middle of his players gesturing with both hands, and now is in a back-and-forth conversation with Heath.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
July 21, 2021, 5:02 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

31′ Sofia Jakobsson, who had the assist on Sweden’s goal, has been a handful for defender Crystal Dunn and the U.S. so far. Wearing No. 10, she’s finding all sorts of space to work on the right wing, constantly calling for the ball, repeatedly getting it and charging aggressively into space. Dunn had to slide to deny another golden chance for Jakobsson, who had dribbled all the way to the mouth of the goal at full speed.

July 21, 2021, 5:05 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

It’s been waaaay too easy for Sweden on the right side today. The goal showed that, but the normally unflappable Dunn is really having it rough.

July 21, 2021, 4:58 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

26′ Naeher, to be clear, had no chance there. Point-blank header, and an early hole for the United States.

July 21, 2021, 4:57 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

25′ That’s a well-deserved goal for Sweden, who had been creating one chance after another. It was only a matter of time. Jakobsson sliced a cross from the right side to Blackstenius, who let the ball glance off her forehead and into the net.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
July 21, 2021, 4:56 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

25′ GOAL! Sweden takes the lead!

July 21, 2021, 4:55 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

24′ And another! It’s Rolfo this time, sprung up the center in a quick exchange. Naeher again dives right to palm away her shot. But the U.S. surely knows it’s playing with fire here. Too many chances.

July 21, 2021, 4:53 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

23′ Asllani forces yet another diving save from Naeher with a curling shot from outside the box.

July 21, 2021, 4:52 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

21′ And just like that Heath drops into a deep-lying midfield role and Mewis pushes much higher, alongside Morgan.

July 21, 2021, 4:51 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

20′ We’re 20 minutes in and it feels as if the U.S. needs to find a way to get Mewis and Horan a bit more of the ball, if only because that might mean Sweden’s midfield would have a little less of it.

July 21, 2021, 4:49 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

How quiet is it in this stadium? You could hear a few individual gasps in response to Alyssa Naeher’s save.

July 21, 2021, 4:47 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

15′ Yikes: a terrible giveaway by Dunn there, who sends a ball directly onto the chest of a Sweden player — Blackenstenius, it looked like — at the top of the U.S. penalty area. She collects and feeds immediately to a cutting Jakobsson, but her shot is straight at Naeher in the U.S. goal. A HUGE letoff for the Americans there.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
July 21, 2021, 4:46 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

14′ Sweden is finding a lot of space to run and is getting into dangerous positions. Fridolina Rolfo belted a low shot from the left side, outside the box, forcing a tough diving save from Naeher, who pushed it outside the post for a corner kick.

Credit…Alexandra Garcia/The New York Times
July 21, 2021, 4:42 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

10′ The U.S. eases the pressure with its first real chance: Press breaking in on the left and crossing for Morgan at the back post. She meets it but manages only a weak header, which will no doubt annoy her.

A minute later Press is back with a better shot: a hard rising ball from the top of the area. But it rises right into the gloves of goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl.

July 21, 2021, 4:40 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

8′ Sweden wins another corner. Dunn had to sprint back to swipe the ball away from Jakobsson, who had been played dangerously behind the defense with a nice through ball into the box. The U.S. cleared the ensuing corner without any issues.

July 21, 2021, 4:38 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

6′ A corner for Sweden now, and Jonna Andersson plays it short for Asllani, and soon another cross is being swept in. Another clearance, but again, a minute later Sweden is coming again. They’re really on the front foot so far.

July 21, 2021, 4:36 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

4′ Sweden wins the first free kick of the game and Asslani lofts in a beauty. But it’s a bit ahead of her attackers and the U.S., scrambling a little, clears it amid the confusion. Sweden is right back on them a minute later though.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
July 21, 2021, 4:35 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

1′ There was a dramatic countdown from 10 before the kickoff. After the opening whistle, the vague hum of fake crowd noise starting piping out of the stadium sound system. This kind of artificial soundscape is expected to be used all around the Olympics over the next three weeks.

July 21, 2021, 4:33 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

Both Sweden and the United States took a knee before the opening whistle, just as Team GB and Chile did in their game earlier today. That has become a common show of allyship with social justice causes in soccer. But it could also be seen as a direct challenge against the I.O.C.’s new rules about protests.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
July 21, 2021, 4:29 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

The Swedes linked arms and sang along as their anthem was played. The Americans then turned to face a flag shimmering on the jumbotron for “The Star Spangled Banner.” In the quiet afterward, you could hear both teams’ players yelling words of encouragement to one another.

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
July 21, 2021, 4:24 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

An absolutely eerie silence just before the teams walk out. But the first notes of Seven Nation Army bring us right back to reality. Megan Rapinoe is dancing along.

July 21, 2021, 4:22 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

It’s hot and muggy, but the field looks to be in great shape. Somewhat ominously, stadium workers were spraying reporters with insect repellent as they entered the arena. One staffer, while spraying one of my forearms, told me that mosquitos would be a problem here, “especially at night.”

July 21, 2021, 4:22 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

I traded a New York Times Olympic pin to the guy who sprayed me. I’m going to take it back if I get one bite.

July 21, 2021, 4:22 a.m. ET

Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

The United States closes its warm-up with a bit of cheering as the starters take one last sprint. Maybe they do it every time and no one hears it, but it’s still jarring to hear players’ voices that clearly, even after so many months of the pandemic.

Atmosphere will be an issue today, the U.S. defender Kelley O’Hara admitted in a conference call this week. And she said that she and her teammates would do their best to create a little of it — to get “loud” was her word.

“If we can be loud and communicative and just bring energy with our voices, because we’re going to be able to hear each other — which typically doesn’t happen when you step onto a pitch in a major tournament — I think that that can contribute to our energy and the vibe of the game,” she said.

We’ll see what we can hear: They have already tested the pumped-in crowd noise this evening. (Fake cheers! Not just for TV viewers anymore!)

July 21, 2021, 4:15 a.m. ET

The U.S. women’s national soccer team plays Sweden in its first match at the Olympics on Wednesday.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Kelley O’Hara remembers all of it: the hot steamy day in Brasília, the resolute Swedish defense, the celebrations its players enjoyed and the despair of her own team, its dream of a second consecutive gold medal vanishing in a single, frustrating afternoon.

That match, a quarterfinal at the 2016 Rio Olympics won by Sweden in a penalty-kick shootout, was the last game the United States women’s team played in the Games. For five years, O’Hara said, she and her teammates have been itching to make it right.

“It feels like a big deal,” O’Hara said Tuesday. “It feels like the Olympics. It’s what we’ve waited now five years for, to be back here.”

It is perhaps fitting that the United States will open its latest pursuit of Olympic soccer gold on Wednesday with a game against Sweden. There is no team, in fact, that the Americans have faced more in world championship competition: six meetings in the World Cup, including the past five tournaments, and two more at the Olympics. Those collisions include the 2016 defeat in Brazil, which was the first time an American women’s team had returned from the Games without a medal.

“It’s a game and a loss that I’ve thought about a lot over the last five years,” said O’Hara, who started the game but watched its denouement helplessly from the bench after being substituted. “How are we going to get revenge? Hopefully we’re going to beat them.”

With games against Australia and New Zealand to come, the United States faces potentially its sternest test of the tournament against Sweden on opening day. The Swedes, the world’s fifth-ranked team, are the only side to deny the Americans a victory since January 2019, and the teams’ 1-1 tie in Stockholm in April is the only blemish on the unbeaten record of United States Coach Vlatko Andonovski (22-0-1). Only an 87th-minute penalty kick by Megan Rapinoe, in fact, prevented defeat that day.

Yet even for a veteran United States team with voluminous championship experience — 17 of the 18 players on the current squad lifted the World Cup two summers ago — almost nothing else about this year’s tournament will feel familiar: not the venues, and definitely not the pandemic conditions, which include the absence of family, friends and fans in the stands.

One thing that never changes is the stakes. The United States is trying to win the Olympic tournament for a record fifth time. But it also is trying — again — to become the first reigning Women’s World Cup champion to claim the Olympic gold. That was the goal in 2016, of course, but Sweden sent the Americans home empty-handed.

“I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought about that, and I think most people on the team have,” O’Hara said. “At the same time, I know what it takes to win a major tournament. For me it’s about focusing on the game right in front of me and the opponent that I’m going to play, so I don’t get too caught up in, ‘Oh, we’re going to make history, or do this or do that, or break this record or that record.’ To me it’s just, win the game.

“But that being said,” she quickly added of the possible World Cup-Olympic double, “it’d be very cool.”

July 21, 2021, 4:03 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

Here’s Sweden’s lineup. A few of the players on its team also started in Sweden’s 1-1 tie with the United States in April. Caroline Seger, 36, is the captain. Kosovare Asllani is probably the player you, and the U.S. team, want to keep a close eye on.

July 21, 2021, 3:45 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

There are no fans at Tokyo Stadium, but organizers are running through the pregame period as if it’s a full house, blasting music and showing videos on the jumbotron, including one explaining the rules of soccer. (These types of explainers will probably feel more appropriate once the more obscure sports begin at these Games.)

July 21, 2021, 3:41 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

The United States lineup is out and the only thing that qualifies as a surprise is Megan Rapinoe starting on the bench. She is not injured; that’s just a coach’s decision.

July 21, 2021, 3:44 a.m. ET

reporting from Tokyo Stadium

Christen Press and Tobin Heath start on the wings, in support of Alex Morgan. The rest of the U.S. lineup is as expected, and daunting if you’re Sweden: Sam Mewis, Lindsey Horan and Rose Lavelle in midfield, and the preferred back four of Dunn-Sauerbrunn-Dahlkemper-O’Hara.

July 21, 2021, 3:40 a.m. ET

Preparations for Wednesday’s match at Tokyo Stadium.
Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times

Wednesday’s game is being broadcast by USA Network and Telemundo in the United States, and it is also available on the NBC Sports and Telemundo Deportes streaming platforms, and at NBCOlympics.com.

If you missed the match, it will be replayed on NBCSN at 8:30 a.m. Eastern time and 6 p.m. Eastern.

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