An Olympic soccer game at 4:30 Saturday morning suddenly has become must-see TV.
The match between the United States and New Zealand is a must-win situation for the Americans after their surreal collapse in the Tokyo Games opener Wednesday. The United States, unbeaten in 44 games, took a 3-0 beating from Sweden.
The lifeless performance puts the gold-medal favorites and reigning world champions in danger of an unthinkable early exit. The top two teams from the group stage advance to the quarterfinals, so the United States cannot risk anything short of victory Saturday and again Tuesday against ninth-ranked Australia.
“I know they will be out for revenge, and we will be the targets,” said Ali Riley, a Stanford graduate who plays for New Zealand.
Since women’s soccer became an Olympic sport in 1996, the Americans have always advanced from the group stage. Only once have they failed to reach the final, and that was in 2016 when losing in the quarterfinal to… Sweden.
The Americans are seeking their fifth gold medal and the unprecedented achievement of winning an Olympic title after winning the Women’s World Cup.
But after getting outclassed by a stronger, faster and better organized Swedish side, the United States needs a complete reboot to reach the quarterfinals.
“You drop points at the beginning of the tournament and now you’re in sort of do-or-die mode so you’ve got to pick up points otherwise we’re going home quick and we don’t want to do that,” star Megan Rapinoe told reporters.
Stina Blackstenius scored a goal in each half as Sweden exploited the right side of the U.S. defense with attack after attack directed at fullback Crystal Dunn.
On the other end, the Americans’ vaunted strikers were silenced because Sweden’s dominance in the midfield did not permit the United States to unleash many serious threats.
In speaking about the victory, Swedish goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl offered a reminder that losing the tournament opener does not automatically spell doom.
“You can go very far in a tournament even if you lose to the USA or whoever you play in the first game, so I don’t know how much it means,” she said. “But we showed the world and ourselves that we can play good against a team like the U.S. — and any team.”
Can New Zealand do the same Saturday?
The Ferns lost to rival Australia 2-1 on Wednesday and is considered the softest team in Group G. But here’s the rub: soccer’s fickle nature leads to strange outcomes.
A tie against the United States is not out of the question although the Americans destroyed New Zealand 5-0 in a May exhibition. They also defeated New Zealand 4-0 at the Beijing Games and 2-0 at the Rio Olympics.
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Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment