The USA women's soccer team lost a match when it needed only a tie and now face a team it wanted to avoid in the 2011 World Cup.
All this came about when Lisa Dahlkvist converted a penalty, Nilla Fischer scored on a free kick and Sweden beat the United States for the first time in World Cup play, 2-1, on Wednesday night in Wolfsburg, Germany. The loss mean the U.S. now has to play Brazil in the quarterfinals.
Abby Wambach got the Americans back in the game in the 67th minute with her first goal of the tournament. But just as they have all year, the Americans squandered many other chances to score.
It's the fourth loss since November for the world's No. 1 team after going more than two years without a defeat, and their second to Sweden this year. It's only Sweden's fifth victory against the U.S. in 30 matches, and first in four World Cup meetings.
As the Group C winner, Sweden will play Australia on Sunday in Augsburg. The Americans will face Brazil, whom they beat in the last two Olympic finals, in Dresden.
Both teams were already through to the quarterfinals. But, with the edge in goal differential, the Americans needed only a draw to avoid meeting Brazil. Led by Marta, the five-time FIFA Player of the Year, Brazil was runnerup to the U.S. at the 2008 and 2004 Olympics, and finished second to Germany at the 2007 World Cup.
But the Americans have been spotty all year, and this match was no different.
With German chancellor Angela Merkel watching with the Germany squad, Sweden put the U.S. on its heels early after Amy LePeilbet tripped Lotta Schelin in the box in the 14th minute to earn a penalty kick. Dahlkvist took the penalty, curling it into the left side of the net. Hope Solo dived in full stretch, but the ball was just beyond her fingertips.
The goal snapped Solo's scoreless streak at 796 minutes, second longest in U.S. history. It also ended a run of eight shutouts, dating to March 2010.
Sloppy defending cost the Americans again in the 35th minute, when Stanford grad Rachel Buehler was whistled for dragging down Therese Sjogran about 25 yards out. Fischer, filling in as captain with Caroline Seger suspended, hammered a free kick into LePeilbet's thigh. Solo, already moving to her left, was caught off-guard and could do nothing to stop the ball from bouncing into the net.
The U.S. pulled a goal back in the 67th when Wambach headed (or shouldered) in a corner kick from UCLA grad Lauren Cheney with an assist from the head of Sweden's Fischer. It was the first goal of the tournament for Wambach and her 10th overall at the World Cup, second among Americans to the 12 scored by Michelle Akers.
The Americans had plenty of chances to equalize, but struggled once again to finish. Lindahl punched away Cheney's cross to Wambach at the far post in the 29th minute, and Amy Rodriguez banged a gimme chip over Lindahl off the crossbar three minutes later. Lindahl punched away a hard shot by Megan Rapinoe in the 54th after Rapinoe neatly sidestepped Sara Thunebro, and World Cup rookie and Stanford grad Kelly O'Hara missed a wide-open net from about 8 yards in the 86th. O'Hara entered the match in the 73rd minute for Rapinoe.