The World Cup groups are named alphabetically, but for former USWNT keeper Hope Solo, Group F might stand for ‘F Sweden.’ The American’s group features a rematch of the 2016 Olympic quarter finals, in which the Swedes beat the U.S. on penalties 4-3.
Hope Solo famously called Sweden cowards for their conservative style of play, in what turned out to be Solo’s last meaningful game wearing the stars and bars in net. The Americans play Thailand (ranked 34th in the world), Chile (39th in the world) and Sweden (ninth in the world).
The U.S. has only faced off against Thailand once in 2016, and won 9-0. Sure it was the USWNT’s first game after a disappointing Olympic campaign, so there was a little bit extra on the line during the friendly. But nonetheless, it was a trouncing.
Thailand’s last four games came at the Cyprus Cup, in which Thailand came in eighth place out of the 12 teams competing. Thailand competed in Group B of the tournament, facing off with Hungary (didn’t qualify for the WC), Mexico (also didn’t qualify) and Italy, who qualified.
Thailand’s only win of the tournament came against Hungary, a 4-0 result. They lost to Mexico 2-1, and finished group play losing 4-1 to fellow WC competitor Italy. That would be followed by a 3-0 loss to Nigeria (also in the WC) in the seventh place match.
The Chaba Kaew, the Thai WNT’s nickname, still have three send off matches to erase their Cyprus cup failure and start the World Cup on the right foot. On May 25, Thailand will play World Cup host France, then turn around to play Belgium on June 1.
These two matches will be a true litmus test for the Chaba Kaew, as France and Belgium are ranked fourth and 20th, respectively. Thailand will play their final send-off match against a club called Kon Titche, according to Google Translate. A Google search of the name didn’t have any results pertaining to the club.
Chile’s two latest matches are weird. They drew fellow World Cup squad Scotland 1-1, but then four days later, dropped a 7-nil result to the Netherlands, who failed to qualify.
They held just 36% possession and mustered a single shot on target. They passed at a 67% accuracy clip. It was not a good game., but the Netherlands result shouldn’t fool anyone. Only six players from the Scotland game started against the Netherlands.
Chile plays a 4-2-3-1, but doesn’t pass incredibly well out of the back. They’ll try to sit back against the U.S. and deploy their two CDM’s to disrupt the flow of the American’s midfield.
Their two outside attacking mids will have their hands full with Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath on the wings. This should be a favorable matchup for the Americans, as should most opponents.
Sweden are managed by master tactician Pia Sundhage, former USWNT manager who led the Americans to gold at the 2008 and 2012 Olympics and led the U.S. to a second-place finish at the 2011 World Cup, losing the final to Japan on penalties. After winning the 2012 Olympics, Sundhage stepped down as U.S. gaffer to become Sweden’s manager. She’s been a thorn in the U.S.’s side ever since.
Sweden competed at the 2019 Algarve Cup in Portugal. They beat Switzerland 4-1 before dropping a 2-1 result against host Portugal. They won their group on goal differential and qualified for the third place match. They lost to women’s football giant Canada 6-5 on penalties.
The Swedes held Canada to a scoreless draw through 90+ minutes, which is no small feat. Fourth place at the Algarve Cup certainly wasn’t what Sundhage wanted, but it’s not a bad result at all.
Sweden will be the U.S.’s biggest group stage competition. They’re ranked ninth in the world and play a style of football that will challenge the U.S.’s attacking minded tactics. Sundhage employs a 3-4-1-2, committing seven bodies behind the ball, leaving one midfielder high as an outlet pass, and two forwards whose main job will be to counter attack.
The U.S. is best in space, with several players who thrive in one-versus-one situations. The counter will cause problems for the US defense, especially if Julie Ertz commits to an attack.
The U.S. needs to win their group. They should be able to beat most everyone in the tournament. Sweden will take care of their business against Chile and Thailand, making the U.S./Sweden match the de facto championship match for Group F.
The road to the championship match is much easier by placing first in the group. Not to say the U.S. isn’t up for any challenge, but for the sake of football, let’s leave the high stakes, U.S. versus Canada, Germany, England, France or Australia matches until late in the knockout stages.
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