Ladies Soccer and the US get things underway before the actual Olympic games opening Ceremonies – as soccer kicks things off on Wednesday AM. The US ladies of course will play their nemesis #5 ranked Sweden who knocked them out of the last Olympics in the Quarterfinals. Of course the US dispatched of Sweden in the World Cup 2 years ago – but the sting is still there. Christen Press: USWNT loss to Sweden in Rio drives its quest for Olympic gold
Lots of discussion about who will start vs Sweden and who will play and how the roster will be adjusted for the 3 games in the group stages – but I look for Coach A to throw a knockout punch in the first game. I think he starts his strongest possible team looking to knock off Sweden and take control of the Group. For that reason I think he starts Rapinoe – she’s a big game player and was the MOP of the Olympics, I like Alex Morgan up top and Christen Press on the right. Press can play any of the top 3 slots – but she’s lethal on the wings and is our top and most dangerous scorer since the World Cup. I expect to see Lavelle (assuming her ankle is ok) along with Sam Mewis in the mid along with either Lindsay Horan or Julie Ertz at the #6. If Ertz is healthy I think she starts – as Horan could sub in at either of the 3 midfield spots or even as a 2nd forward if behind late. The normal back line of Dunn on the left, Sauerbrunn and Dahlkemper in the middle and O’Hara on the right should front Naeher in goal.
I think Tobino Heath will be the first sub in for Rapino the other subs will depend on the situation. Assuming the US beats Sweden I would think Heath and Lloyd will get starts in game two vs New Zealand with Williams and Macario seeing some time off the bench in game two. Coach A will need to work in rest for Rapinoe, Morgan, Heath, Lloyd, Ertz and possibly Lavelle as I don’t think any of them can play all 3 matches. I look for the US to get started strong and to claim a 1 maybe a 2-0 win over Sweden. If you miss the game live – the game will be REPLAYED ON NBCSN at 8:30 am and again at 6 pm on NBCSN and of course the replay will be on NBCOlympics.com.
DEFENDERS (6): Abby Dahlkemper (Manchester City), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars), Crystal Dunn (Portland Thorns), Kelley O’Hara (Washington Spirit), Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns), Emily Sonnett (Washington Spirit), Casey Krueger (Chicago Red Stars),
MIDFIELDERS (5): Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns), Rose Lavelle (OL Reign), Kristie Mewis (Houston Dash), Samantha Mewis (North Carolina Courage), Catarina Macario (Lyon),
FORWARDS (5): Tobin Heath (Unattached), Carli Lloyd (NJ/NY Gotham FC), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Unattached), Megan Rapinoe (OL Reign), Lynn Williams (North Carolina Courage)
GAMES ON TV
Wednesday, July 21 WOMEN’s Soccer
3:30 am Britain vs Chile Ladies (Olympic Channel)
4 am China vs Brazil Ladies (NBCSN)
4 am Soccer Preview Show (USA)
4:30 am USA vs Sweden Ladies (USA)
7 am Zambia vs Netherlands (Olympic Channel)
7:30 am Japan vs Canada Ladies (NBCSN)
8:30 am REPLAY USA vs Sweden (NBCSN)
6 pm REPLAY USA vs Sweden (NBCSN)
8 pm MLS Cincinnati vs Atlanta United (FS1)
10 pm MLS Portland vs LAFC (FS1)
Thursday, July 22
3:30 am Egypt vs Spain Men (Olympic Channel)
4 am Mexico vs France (USA Network)
6:30 am Argentina vs Australia Men (Olympic Channel)
7 am Japan vs South Africa Men (NBCSN)
7:30 am Brazil vs Germany Men (USA Network)
7:30 pm Orlando City vs Philly Union ESPN
10 pm Austin FC vs Seattle Sounders ESPN
Saturday, July 24
4:30 am Sweden vs Australia (NBCSN)
7:30 am USA vs New Zealand Ladies (NBCSN)
3:30 pm MLS Atlanta United vs Columbus Crew (ABC)
7:30 pm GOLD CUP QF Qatar vs Panama FS2
10 pm GOLD CUP QF Mexico vs Honduras FS1
Sunday, July 25th
10 pm GOLD CUP USA vs Jamaica FS1
US Men –
Opinion: Grudge match with Sweden the perfect opener for USWNT at Tokyo Olympics
Nancy Armour, USA TODAY
Tue, July 20, 2021, 9:20 AM·3 min read
TOKYO – Nothing like a good ol’ fashioned grudge match to kick off the Olympics.The U.S. women begin play Wednesday with a game against Sweden. Yes, that would be the same Sweden that knocked the Americans out of the Rio Olympics in the quarterfinals, their earliest exit ever at a major tournament.“What happened in 2016 was one of the worst results that the senior national team has had in a major tournament,” captain Becky Sauerbrunn said Tuesday. “From playing in that game, I know how disappointed we all were. It has lit a fire going into (the World Cup in) 2019, and also here for 2020.”The rivalry between the USWNT and Sweden was already feisty before Rio. The U.S. has faced no team more often at the Olympics and World Cup than Sweden – the group-stage game in Tokyo will be their ninth at a major international tournament – including at each of the last five World Cups.Seven of their last eight games overall have been decided by one goal or less, including a 1-1 draw in April that snapped the USWNT’s 16-game win streak, the third-longest in team history.But it’s that 2016 loss, on penalty kicks, that still stings.The U.S. women don’t lose often – all of six times since 2015 – and it’s really a rarity when big prizes are on the line. Since the World Cup began in 1991, the Americans have won it four times, including the last two. They have won the gold medal four times since women’s soccer was added to the Olympic program in 1996.And when they don’t win, they usually come close.They were runners-up at the 2011 World Cup, and finished third in 1995, 2003 and 2007. Before Rio, the Americans were silver medalists at the one Olympics where they didn’t win gold.So to lose in 2016 was galling enough. To do it before even the medal rounds? It was almost incomprehensible.“The players who were there in 2016, it’s in the back of our minds,” Alex Morgan said before the April friendly. “And those who weren’t there, we’ll be sure to remind them.”Sweden has potent forwards, and it has the size and strength to go toe-to-toe with the Americans. But it’s the Swedes’ attitude that makes them such a formidable foe.If they’re intimidated by the Americans and all their success, you’d never know it. They will do whatever it takes to win, even bunkering down as they did in Rio to take the game to extra time and then penalties.“I think it’s more a question to the U.S. team, what do they think we do very good against them,” Sweden captain Caroline Seger said Tuesday, when asked to explain her team’s success against the USWNTThat doesn’t mean Sweden takes the Americans lightly, either.“We know we have to be very prepared. We have to step up to a level that is very high,” Seger said. “The U.S. brings its best when it needs to be the best. It’s going to be very tough game tomorrow, but I also know we’re very prepared.”The Americans are hoping to become the first reigning World Cup champion to win the Olympic title, and a loss – or draw – against Sweden would not end those chances. But beating Sweden would put the USWNT in control of Group G and, theoretically, an easier path through the medal rounds.Those are concerns for another day, however. For now, the Americans have one thought and one thought only in mind.“It’s a loss that I’ve thought about a lot over the last five years, and how am I, how are we, going to get revenge?” Kelley O’Hara said. “Hopefully we’re going to beat them.”Let the grudges, err, Games, begin.
USWNT’s Tobin Heath, Matildas’ Ellie Carpenter, Team GB’s Caroline Weir among Olympic players to watch
Jul 19, 2021Kathleen McNamee
While the men’s football competition at the Olympics is often an opportunity to get a sneak peek of some up-and-coming talent, the women’s competition is stacked with both new and recognisable names.With no age limits in the women’s comp and with squads being expanded this year thanks to COVID-19 precautions, there will even more talent on display in Tokyo. Coaches can bring 22 players but must pick 18 for matchday.While many stalwarts of the game return, several young prospects will be looking to make a name for themselves. The United States women’s national team have the best claim to being tournament favourites — they are looking to make history by becoming the first team to win a World Cup and Olympic gold back-to-back — there are 11 other nations looking to derail them.Here are ESPN’s picks of the players who might just be the ones to look out for during the competition.
Christiane Endler (Chile)
The six-time Chilean Player of the Year has often been described as one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and her experience will be needed as they come up against medal contenders Canada and Great Britain in their group, as well as hosts Japan. She conceded just four goals in the Division 1 Feminine last season and helped Paris Saint-Germain win the league for the first time. This earned her a move to European behemoths Lyon. Endler’s distribution is one of her strongest assets and alongside her confidence in defending set pieces, she is always one to watch.
Caroline Weir (Team GB)
Team Great Britain is often dominated by players from England, but it is a testament to the talent of Scotland’s Caroline Weir that she would be the first name on many people’s teamsheet. The attacking midfielder is known for scoring stunning goals from the edge of the box, drawing comparisons to Eric Cantona from her teammates. Besides scoring, it is her technical ability that makes Weir an important component of Hege Riise’s squad. She has a pass-completion rate of over 85% and is confident with the ball at her feet, averaging between 60 to 70 touches per game. With much of the squad made up of her Manchester City teammates, she’s well positioned to score some more Puskas Award-worthy goals.
Mana Iwabuchi (Japan)
There was surprise in some quarters when Iwabuchi opted to join Aston Villa last season. The experienced forward has played with some of the world’s best. She managed just two goals, but her average of over 70 touches per game shows she’s invested in build-up play. A big move to Arsenal at the start of the summer — where she will be reunited with former Bayern Munich teammates Vivianne Miedema and Lisa Evans — will hopefully give her more opportunity to shine and no better way to start that than with Japan at the Olympics. Precise and deliberate on the ball, she poses a serious threat.
Lieke Martens (Netherlands)
Vivianne Miedema is often put forward as the star of Netherlands’ squad and while her goal-scoring record speaks for itself, there is plenty of other talent in the European champions squad. One such name that sticks out is Martens, who won the Primera Iberdrola and Champions League this season with Barcelona. The Catalan club’s dominance at home and abroad was second to none and Martens has played a vital role in getting the team to that point. Elegant on the ball, she likes to play wide before using her technical ability to either get behind defences or take a shot. Netherlands have arguably the easiest group in the competition — with matches slated against China, Brazil and Zambia — but that opens things up to some magical moments from Martens.
Ellie Carpenter (Australia)
The young player from Australia has made a remarkable name for herself in Europe, and her skills will be needed as her side face one of the toughest groups in the draw. The Matildas have struggled in games in the run-up to the Olympics, but Carpenter has been consistently a standout player. With oppositions well aware of the threat of the side’s star Sam Kerr, having other options going forward have been key and Carpenter’s ability to scarper up the wing from the defence and turn attacker has only heightened her usefulness to Tony Gustavsson. While she’s the fifth-youngest on the squad, she brings a mature style of play which if utilised correctly could be a key element to the Matildas’ success.
Magda Eriksson (Sweden)
The Chelsea captain led her club to domestic glory, and with Sweden tipped as one of the main challengers to the USWNT’s bid to make history, her experience is going to be crucial. The squad is packed full of young exciting talent like Hanna Bennison, but the importance of Eriksson can’t be underestimated. She was part of the squad that won silver at Rio 2016 and after a disappointing defeat to Barcelona in the Champions League final, Eriksson will be on the hunt for silverware. Technically she’s very gifted, with Chelsea manager Emma Hayes often saying she could have a career in coaching, such is the level of her football brain. Watch her marshal the Swedish defence against some of the world’s best forwards and marvel at how she seems to know what they’re about to do before they even make a move.
Tobin Heath (United States)
Tobin Heath is far from a lesser-known name, but she has had a difficult season with injuries. Having missed out on the second half of the Women’s Super League season with Manchester United, she faced a race to get fit in time for the Olympics. There was a question mark over whether Vlatko Andonovski was right to pick her to travel but she answered all these and more with her comeback against Mexico. Two goals in two games showed she is ready to compete for a starting spot and after such a lengthy spell out, we could be treated to some Heath magic in Tokyo. Look out for her stealing the ball from the opposition and darting through the defence before releasing a powerful strike that leaves even the best goalkeepers stuck to the spot.
The Top Threats to the USWNT’s Quest for Olympic Gold
The U.S. is a clear favorite to bounce back from 2016 humiliation and capture a fifth gold medal, but the tournament field features some familiar foes capable of preventing that.
MOLLY GEARY JUL 19, 2021
Set your alarms and keep the coffee at the ready.The Olympic women’s soccer tournament begins Wednesday in Japan, with Great Britain vs. Chile kicking off at 3:30 a.m. ET as the first of six group-round games that day. The U.S. follows an hour later with its opener vs. Sweden, and additional group matches on July 24 and July 27 will precede the knockout rounds, with an eventual gold-medal match taking place on Aug. 5 (it’ll Aug. 6 in Tokyo).The tournament features 12 teams, with the FIFA world No. 1 USWNT being widely considered the favorite. The U.S. has not lost since a road defeat to France in January 2019 (44 matches), and it’s attempting to become the first reigning Women’s World Cup champion to win the subsequent Olympic gold medal (not to mention, aiming to avenge its shocking Olympic quarterfinal exit five years ago).The road to the podium, however, will not include a couple of familiar heavyweights. France, the world’s No. 3 ranked team, will not feature in Japan because of European qualification rules (the confederation’s three Olympic spots went to the three countries that finished highest at the ’19 World Cup), and No. 2 ranked Germany won’t have a chance to defend its 2016 gold medal for the same reason. Spain, a rising threat in the women’s game, won’t be there, either, after its round-of-16 exit to the U.S. two years ago.Despite those absences, intrigue still abounds as the rest of the world tries to knock the U.S. off its perch. And if you’re a fan of chaos and underdogs, consider that if the USWNT doesn’t win gold, we are guaranteed to get a first-time women’s Olympic champion. The tournament groupings are as follows (Groups A-D are part of the men’s tournament, which kicks off Thursday):
Group E: Great Britain, Canada, Japan, Chile
Group F: Netherlands, Brazil, China, Zambia
Group G: United States, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand
Who should U.S. fans be most concerned about? We break down the seven teams most likely to stand in the way.
FIFA world ranking: 4th
The U.S.’s 2019 final opponent is lurking again in these Olympics. The Dutch should be regarded as the favorite to win Group F, and doing so could put them on another championship collision course with the U.S. (should both countries win their respective groups, they would be on opposite sides of the knockout bracket). The Netherlands is led by Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema, one of the world’s premier strikers at age 25, as well as Barcelona forward Lieke Martens, Manchester United midfielder Jackie Groenen and PSV goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal, the last of whom gave the U.S. fits in said World Cup final. The U.S. successfully kept Miedema and the Dutch attack in check in that game, but she’ll be a major key to any gold medal push this team makes in Japan.Generally, scoring isn’t a problem for the Netherlands. The Dutch can put up goals in bunches and have tallied some eye-popping results in 2021, pummeling Australia 5–1, Belgium 6–1 and Norway 7–0. But 1–0 defeats to Italy and Spain, as well as a 2–0 loss on home soil to the United States last November (a game that had key absences on both sides, including Miedema), show they are still trying to get over that final hurdle since bursting onto the scene by winning the Women’s Euros in 2017.This tournament is also a sendoff for Dutch coach Sarina Wiegman, who has brought this federation to the cusp of global glory and is taking the England women’s job in September. Ending her tenure on a high, though, may require putting the type of offensive pressure on the U.S. that they’ve failed to do in the sides’ last two meetings. That starts in the midfield, where Groenen, Lyon’s Daniëlle van de Donk and others will play a pivotal role in any Olympic run.
FIFA world ranking: 5th
The Swedes are one of just two teams since April 2019 that have played the U.S. and not lost (the other, South Korea, is not at these Games). Three months ago, the USA needed an 87th-minute penalty kick by Megan Rapinoe to salvage a 1–1 draw in Stockholm. They’ll meet again on Wednesday in a sneaky-critical opener for both sides—the victor, should there be one, will have the inside track at winning Group G, which comes with the award of avoiding a scary quarterfinal matchup (Group G’s second-place team will draw the winner of Group F, very likely to be either the Netherlands or Brazil. The Group G winner will face a third-place finisher in the quarters). https://74d7e61e4dbff740f1569a37bc073e66.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html A number of the Sweden players who were on the 2016 Olympic roster when it stunned the U.S. are back, including star center back Magdalena Eriksson, midfielder Kosovare Asllani, forwards Sofia Jakobsson and Fridolina Rolfö and captain Caroline Seger. This group shouldn’t be intimidated by the prospect of facing the U.S.—or anyone else—and if there’s a silver lining to opening with such a high-profile match, it’s that there can’t be a rematch until the final.
The next tier
FIFA world ranking: 7th
Two former USWNT head coaches will be on other sidelines in Japan—Brazil’s Pia Sundhage is one, and New Zealand’s Tom Sermanni is the other. Sundhage, of course, famously won gold while coaching the U.S. at the 2012 Olympics in London, then stepped down and took the job in Sweden, where she managed the 2016 team that knocked out the U.S. in the quarterfinals. In 2019, she took over for Brazil and now leads an intriguing group looking to cause some real damage at the Tokyo Games.In the last decade-plus, Brazil has struggled to replicate its women’s soccer golden days, when it was runner-up at both the 2007 World Cup and 2008 Olympics, and when Marta—now 35 and still a very good player—was at her incredible peak. But there’s plenty of talent here in 2021, and under Sundhage, this group has evolved into one on the upswing. Marta is still here, of course, and amazingly so is 43-year-old Formiga, who has played in every single Olympics that has had women’s soccer (since 1996) and is making her seventh(!) trip.The title of Brazil’s top playmaker now, though, belongs to Debinha, a dynamic midfielder who stars in the NWSL and is a scoring threat whenever she approaches the 18-yard-box. Brazil will need her at her best in its quest for a medal. This group did see the U.S. earlier this year, losing 2–0 at the SheBelieves Cup (it beat both Canada and Argentina by multiple goals in its other matches in the event). Brazil had its chances against the U.S. and will need to be more clinical if it’s to break through in Japan, starting in a crowded Group E.
FIFA world ranking: 8th
Could we get a U.S.-Canada meeting at a major tournament for the first time since that instant classic at the 2012 Olympics? It’s certainly a possibility, with Canada right in the mix again for a medal and a number of potential paths to these sides meeting in the knockouts. The Canadians gave the U.S. a ride at the SheBelieves Cup in February, holding the hosts scoreless for 78 minutes before a Rose Lavelle goal proved to be the difference. And while Canada left that event having scored only once, it was playing its first matches under new head coach Bev Priestman.Priestman hasn’t had a lot of time to implement her vision on the team ahead of the Olympics, but there have been some encouraging results. Canada beat England 2–0 on the road in April, tied Brazil 0–0 in June and drew with the Netherlands 3–3 last week in a pre-Olympic training match.The roster is a mix of experience—like all-time international goal-scoring leader Christine Sinclair (38 years old) and a player with 205 caps in Sophie Schmidt (33)—and youth, like standout defender Ashley Lawrence (26) and midfielder Jessie Fleming (23) and promising young forwards Jordyn Huitema (20) and Evelyne Viens (24). The big question for Canada, though, is a familiar one: Can this team score enough? With a variety of attacking options—which also include Janine Beckie and Nichelle Prince—Priestman is hoping to find the right mix that gives Canada the clinical finishing it needs to get on the podium.
FIFA world ranking: 6th (for England; however, Great Britain could also pull from the rosters of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland)
In certain ways, Team GB is a bit of a mystery heading into this Olympic tournament. The England team that pushed the United States to the brink in the 2019 Women’s World Cup semifinal has taken multiple steps back in the two years since, winning just three of the nine friendlies it’s played and most recently falling to France and Canada by an aggregate score of 5–1. Meanwhile, manager Phil Neville moved on to MLS, and Hege Riise has taken the reins (including those of Team Great Britain) until Wiegman arrives in September.Many of the England players who were on that 2019 team are now part of Team GB, and only three of its 22 players (Scotland’s Kim Little and Caroline Weir; Wales’s Sophie Ingle) are from outside that federation. So the concerns around England’s recent form are real, as is the fact that Great Britain will enter its opener having scarcely played together (a scheduled July friendly with Zambia was canceled, but it did recently beat New Zealand 3–0 in a closed-door Olympic warm-up friendly).Perhaps of chief concern is the Team GB defense, as England posted just two clean sheets (vs. 30th-ranked Portugal and 48th-ranked Northern Ireland) in its last 11 official games. The defender list is familiar, including The Best FIFA Women’s Player honoree Lucy Bronze at right back and Millie Bright, Steph Houghton and Leah Williamson at center back, but that group hasn’t always proven to be the most effective unit at the international level, particularly on set pieces. Look for the talented 24-year-old Williamson, of Arsenal, to have a larger role this time after barely appearing at the ‘19 World Cup.In the attack, Team GB definitely has the pieces to be dangerous, including Ellen White, Fran Kirby, Nikita Parris, Georgia Stanway and promising 20-year-old Lauren Hemp. Kirby is coming off a brilliant season with Chelsea, while White starred two years ago in France. Still, Team GB will need to gel quickly to succeed in a tricky group and avoid falling behind the eight ball—or worse, missing the knockout phase entirely.
FIFA world ranking: 10th
The host side has been building toward this Olympic tournament for some time, sacrificing experience for youth at the ’19 World Cup to rebuild for the future. Those growing pains were still on display at the 2020 SheBelieves Cup, when Japan lost all three games just before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down sports, and it’s only played five friendlies since. The good news: it dominated four of those matches by a combined score of 27–1, and won the fifth, 1–0, over Australia. The bad news: The average FIFA ranking of the non-Australia opponents is 42.3, so those routs are largely not indicative of the quality of team it will face in these Olympics.While this is a young group, not everyone on this Japan roster is inexperienced on the big stage. Mana Iwabuchi, 28, has been on the scene since the 2011 Women’s World Cup, and the creative forward has scored six goals across the five 2021 matches. Captain and 30-year-old Saki Kumagai, meanwhile, was a stalwart at Lyon and is an anchor of the Japanese defense.With a lack of high-quality games to go on, it’s hard to gauge exactly what to expect out of Japan in these Games, but make no mistake: It has its eyes on the podium, including a push for gold. Group play will be critical, with Japan, Canada and Great Britain all conceivably able to finish anywhere from first to third. The difference in placement is steep and will largely shape who is most likely to advance past the quarterfinals.
The wild card
FIFA world ranking: 9th
On paper, The Matildas are a perfectly solid team. They have one of the best strikers in the world in Sam Kerr, who is always a threat to score so long as her teammates can get the ball to her feet (or head). They have a team filled with players with major (and varied) club experience, ranging from the NWSL to the WSL to the local W-League. And of the 18 players on the initial Olympic roster before it expanded to 22, only one (Kyra Cooney-Cross) is making her debut on a major tournament roster.The problem? For one thing, Australia is on its third head coach since 2019, and the turnover—on top of the pandemic—has taken its toll. Interim coach Ante Milicic managed the team at the 2019 World Cup and was intended to also coach the team in Japan, but he left the position a year ago. Former USWNT assistant Tony Gustavsson took over in September and has gotten off to more than a rocky start. After going a year without an international game, the Matildas got their doors blown off by Germany and the Netherlands and have lost four of five games in 2021, drawing a fifth with Sweden.Australia’s defense has long been leaky, but if its attack isn’t going to compensate, it makes any road to what would be a surprise medal in Japan a particularly tough one. It also finds itself in a brutal group, and it likely needs to steal points from the U.S. and/or Sweden to avoid a third-place finish and potential elimination. Still, this roster feels too talented and experienced to write off, and if it can get some confidence going early, it has the potential to disrupt either its own narrative or someone else’s.
Great Britain vs. Chile
Wednesday, 3:30 a.m. (Olympic Channel, Universo)
The long-awaited Olympic women’s soccer tournament kicks off Wednesday, two days before the Opening Ceremony kicks off the Tokyo Games in full. Great Britain plays as a unified country only in the Olympics, and its team has plenty of talent. England’s Fran Kirby and Lucy Bronze, and Scotland’s Kim Little are among the headliners.But the English contingent has underwhelmed at the international level, and this is a trap game for them. Chile goalkeeper Christiane Endler is one of the world’s top netminders and will be an even bigger deal on the world stage when she starts playing for Lyon after the Olympics.
Assessing the Matildas’ Tokyo Olympics opponents: New Zealand, Sweden, USWNT
- Samantha LewisAustralia Correspondent
It’s a cliche that each Olympic Games will be unlike anything we have seen before. But this time, after the pandemic forced a year-long delay to Tokyo 2020 — resulting in no crowds, fragile athlete bubbles, a city still in a state of emergency, and a national population largely against the whole idea — they will, for once, be right.There can be no downplaying how fundamentally the pandemic will shape performances at the Tokyo Games, especially when it comes to the football. With many more moving parts and more participating athletes than most other sports at the Olympics, the football tournaments must be viewed and assessed through a lens deeply informed by the history and context of the past 18 months.While sport is always touted as a level playing field, it never is — especially when something like a global pandemic has exacerbated the natural and structural advantages of some national teams over others.Group G is a tantamount example. Australia are joined in this group by New Zealand, Sweden, and the United States: three teams that have, by virtue of their resources, their player pool, their geographic location, and their league availabilities, enter Tokyo 2020 from very different starting points.
Two of the teams in Group G (Australia and New Zealand) didn’t have a national team camp or international-level game for over a year, while Sweden and the USWNT were able to cobble together camps and matches throughout 2020 and 2021. By contrast, even though he formally started his role in January, Matildas head coach Tony Gustavsson didn’t meet some of his players face-to-face until June.To Football Australia’s credit, the Matildas were able to play a series of friendlies against top-ranked opponents in the months leading up to the Games, allowing Gustavsson and his players to re-introduce themselves to each other before they take the pitch for one of the biggest tournaments of their careers.Tokyo 2020, then, carries with it an enormous asterisk. These wider, uncontrollable circumstances have affected different teams in different ways, and it is likely that the pointy-end of the women’s football tournament will be filled by those nations who were able to wiggle their way through the various lockdowns and suspensions with their squads and systems intact.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the three teams Australia will be facing in Group G and how far each of them could go.
When vs. Australia: Wednesday 21 July, 9:30pm (AEST)
Where: Tokyo Stadium
Head coach: Tom Sermanni
FIFA rank: 22
Key players: Abby Erceg (North Carolina Courage), Ria Percival (Tottenham Hotspur), Ali Riley (Orlando Pride), Annalie Longo (Melbourne Victory)
History: Despite their decade-long dominance in the Oceania Football Confederation, New Zealand have never made it past the quarterfinals of an Olympic Games or senior Women’s World Cup. However, they have performed admirably over the past few years under the watchful eye of former Matildas and USWNT head coach Sermanni, most recently finishing fourth in the 2020 Algarve Cup after defeating Belgium on penalties and narrowly losing to Norway 2-1 in the semifinals.When it comes to major tournaments, though, things look a little different. The Football Ferns finished third in their group at Rio 2016 following a win over Colombia, but their inferior goal difference saw them bundled out of the “best third-placed team” spot behind Sweden and Australia, both of whom advanced to the quarterfinals from other groups.In France in 2019, New Zealand were also knocked out at the group stage, though they did put up a fight against eventual runners-up Netherlands (losing 1-0) and Olympic dark horses Canada (losing 2-0), while also controversially losing to Cameroon 2-1 in the 95th minute. What is pleasing for New Zealand, unlike the other teams in their group, is the promise of their next generation. The Kiwis finished third at the 2018 Under-17 Women’s World Cup, sensationally defeating youth powerhouses Japan on penalties and then beating Canada 2-1 to claim bronze. Some of those players — including goalkeeper Anna Leat, Marissa Van Der Meer, and striker Gabi Rennie — have all been included for Tokyo, while the head coach of that triumphant campaign, Leon Birnie, is Sermanni’s assistant
New Zealand’s Olympics run, then, can be seen in a similar vein to Australia’s: laying the foundations and introducing the next generation for a stronger showing at the 2023 Women’s World Cup, which the two nations will be co-hosting. With the promise of home-ground advantage and a squad of impressive emerging players, it’s that World Cup, not the Olympics, that the Kiwis are building towards.
Prediction: While they have been on the cusp in a number of major tournaments, New Zealand are one of the Tokyo sides whose pandemic-affected circumstances seem just too difficult to overcome.With players already scattered across the world, border restrictions and suspensions have made it nearly impossible to organise full-team camps and international-level friendlies to the same extent as their Group G rivals. In fact, their first and only friendly of 2021 came just last week, where New Zealand lost 3-0 to the Great Britain squad.In addition to their lack of preparation, which will likely manifest on the pitch in technical rustiness and international-level fitness, New Zealand are also missing key players such as defender Rebekah Stott and striker Rosie White, both due to illness
Aside from defending their way to a best third-placed finish, it would be miraculous for New Zealand to get out of their group. Getting through their three games without any major injuries would be a success; anything else is a bonus.
When vs. Australia: Saturday 24 July, 6:30PM (AEST)
Where: Saitama Stadium
Head coach: Peter Gerhardsson
FIFA rank: 5
Key players: Hedvig Lindahl (Atletico Madrid), Magdalena Eriksson (Chelsea FC), Kosovare Asllani (Real Madrid), Stina Blackstenius (BK Hacken)
History: Sweden are a team designed for major tournaments. Outside of the United States and Germany, they are one of the most successful national teams across Olympic Games, European Championships, and World Cups — even though they have never won the top gong in any of them.They were runners-up in Rio, losing to Germany 2-1 in the gold medal match after sensationally defeating both the U.S. and Brazil on penalties earlier in the tournament. They finished third at the 2019 Women’s World Cup after defeating a fancied England; a result that doubled as both teams’ qualification for Tokyo 2020.Sweden also have the benefit of being an older, wiser, and more weathered playing group. The majority of them went to France and to Brazil for the past two major tournaments, and as Swedish football journalist Mia Eriksson told The Far Post podcast recently, there has not been as much player turnover or introduction of new blood as some other national teams in Tokyo.Given the unpredictability of the tournament, this may play in Sweden’s favour: these are players who are highly familiar with each other (both at national team and club level) and with big tournament experience.Captain Caroline Seger alone has 214 caps to her name, becoming Europe’s joint-most capped player in history against Australia last month. Seger is joined by players currently working at some of the world’s best clubs including goalkeeper Lindal (Atletico Madrid), Eriksson (Chelsea FC), Asllani (Real Madrid), and Sofia Jakobsson (Bayern Munich); all of whom have been playing together at national team level for several years.This is a team, then, that knows the toll that high-intensity, high-turnover tournaments like the Olympics can take. Having played several more games over the course of 2020 than their other Group G opponents, including both friendlies and competitive European Championship qualification matches, Sweden are not just more willing but also more prepared — physically, tactically, and psychologically — to take it on.
Prediction: Australia have more of an edge over other teams in Group G when it comes to Sweden, having played them most recently in a 0-0 friendly in June. However, Sweden weren’t fully stocked that day, missing or giving limited minutes to a handful of key senior players who have been included in the Tokyo squad.Their recent record is particularly impressive: Sweden haven’t lost a game since March of last year, a run that has included a 1-0 win over traditional rivals Norway and a 1-1 draw against gold medal favourites, the U.S., in April.Experience, consistency, talent, fitness: Sweden are unquestionably capable of a podium finish at Tokyo 2020. They will likely finish second, if not first, in Group G — but just where they finish up in the tournament overall will depend on which opponents fall their way in the knockout stages. If they can get past these early hurdles, they’ll have proved themselves worthy of a medal even before the big day arrives.
When vs. Australia: Tuesday 27 July, 6:00PM (AEST)
Where: Ibaraki Kashima Stadium
Head coach: Vlatko Andonovski
FIFA rank: 1
Key players: Becky Sauerbrunn (Portland Thorns), Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Rose Lavelle (OL Reign), Christen Press (unaffiliated), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride)
History: They’re already the winningest national team in the history of the women’s game with four World Cups (1991, 1999, 2015, 2019) and four Olympic gold medals (1996, 2004, 2008, 2012) to their name. And yet, despite winning all there is to win, the USWNT are still out to create more history at Tokyo 2020 in potentially becoming the first team to win gold after also winning a World Cup the previous year.
Of all the teams competing at Tokyo 2020, this is certainly the one capable of doing just that. The U.S. come into the Olympics on an extraordinary 44-game unbeaten streak, with their last loss being delivered by France in January 2019. Since then, they’ve played out just four draws, three of which came against teams they could potentially face in Tokyo’s latter stages (Japan, England, Sweden).
Like Sweden, the U.S. have a squad overflowing with big game experience. All but three of the Tokyo roster went to the 2019 Women’s World Cup, while majority — including veterans Carli Lloyd, Megan Rapinoe, Morgan, Ertz, Sauerbrunn, and Kelley O’Hara — also went to the Rio Games, a tournament that still haunts them after their shock elimination by Sweden in the quarterfinals (the first time the USWNT failed to medal in an Olympic Games).
The talent and experience of the squad itself aside, the U.S. have also been playing consistently (both at club and national team level) throughout the pandemic, including 12 games in 2021 alone. Across those 12 games, which featured a mix of top 10 and lower-ranked sides, the USA scored 37 goals and conceded just once (against Sweden), with goal-scorers coming from all over the park.
At club level, all the players have received game-time either in their very own National Women’s Soccer League or across the pond in England’s FA Women’s Super League throughout 2020. Those with more recent European experience, too, such as former Manchester City players Lavelle and Sam Mewis, will likely draw upon those valuable months of technical and tactical insight if they find themselves face-to-face with their old team-mates or club-based opponents.
Alongside Sweden, the U.S. are the other team in Group G who have been able to navigate the various spanners COVID-19 has thrown at them. And of all the teams competing at Tokyo’s women’s football tournament, it’s the USWNT who have the resources, the talent, the preparation, and the determination to make the kind of history that a team like them are worthy of.
Prediction: It’s not often you say that the USWNT have a point to prove, but the 2016 Rio Games is the albatross this team are determined to shake from their necks. Tokyo is the U.S.’s chance to return to the summit of the Olympics, fuelled from within by a core group of experienced players who know what it takes to get there.
This is, however, Andonovski’s first major tournament as a national team head coach, having replaced Jill Ellis after the 2019 Women’s World Cup. How well he deals with Tokyo’s pressure-cooker environment and manages his squad could determine how far they go. If he does it well, they are undoubtedly gold medal favourites. Anything less, given the players at his disposal and their recent history, will be a disappointment.
2020 Olympics: Group G Preview
The final group in the Olympic women’s football tournament will likely be the toughest. Group G has the two-time defending world champions, the defending silver medalists, and two other incredibly tough teams. There will be a team strong enough to win a medal that will not get out of this group, and that’s why it will be the group that most people pay attention to when the games begin next week.
The 2-time defending world champions. The #1 team on the planet, the favorites of the tournament. The USWNT is looking to become the first women’s team to win a gold medal right after winning a World Cup. For them, anything less is failure, and they’ve brought an experienced lineup full of some of the best players in the world to go for gold in Tokyo.
FIFA Rank/Elo Rating: 1/1
Recent Record: The USWNT haven’t lost in 2021. They did have 1 draw that took place on the road against Sweden, but every other match has been the USWNT showing why they’re the world’s #1.
Odds of Winning Group: Favorite
One to Watch: Forward Christen Press has been involved in 37 goals in her last 37 international appearances. She not only scores, but she creates goals for others. She’s ready to be the best at this tournament.
Sweden is a team that will always compete, and they have the silverware to prove it. The 2016 silver medalists, Sweden is back for more and to show that they can get all the way to the end and stand tall with the gold medal.
FIFA Rank/Elo Rating: 5/6
Recent Record: Sweden has 4 wins and 2 draws in 2021, including a draw against the United States. They’re the only team that has managed to score a goal on the USA since March 2020.
Odds of Winning: In The Running
One to Watch: Midfielder Kosovare Asllani has star quality and is a terrific scorer for Sweden. She can also create scoring chances, and defenses will have to focus on her every match.
The Matildas are a team that can be dangerous in this tournament. They have some superb players, and they have played well recently against the United States. Still, that hasn’t yielded any trophies or medals. Australia exited in the quarterfinals in Rio 2016 and the Round of 16 in the 2019 World Cup, but they’re hoping that 2021 is the year that the yellow and green are atop the podium.
FIFA Rank/Elo Rating: 9/7
Recent Record: Australia has not had a good run lately. In 2021, they do not have any wins, managing a lone draw to Sweden in 5 matches.
Odds of Winning: In The Running
One to Watch: Samantha Kerr is one of the best players in the world, and she’s going to be counted on to carry Australia throughout the tournament.
The Ferns are the team that’s rated the lowest of the 4 in Group G, but that doesn’t mean they’re the weakest. They always possess a tough mentality on the field and have the players to beat anyone. In their quest to be considered among the top 10 programs in the world, they have the biggest test of all being in this group. New Zealand appears to be ready for the challenge.
FIFA Rank/Elo Rating: 22/26
Recent Record: New Zealand only has one match played in 2021. They lost 3-0 to Great Britain in a tune up match earlier this week.
Odds of Winning: Outside Chance
One to Watch: Hannah Wilkinson is their best goalscorer, and she hopes to make a leap to the next level in helping New Zealand beat the giants.
No games, shock illnesses and late arrivals: New Zealand ready to fight despite horror Olympic lead-in
Jul 19, 2021Stephanie BrantzESPN Columnist
Imagine trying to prepare a team to face the best in the world at an international football tournament, having played just one competitive match together in the preceding 498 days.It’s not an ideal situation at any level of the game, but that is precisely the one in which the New Zealand women’s national team find themselves — playing just one friendly match in 16 months ahead of heir opening match at the Olympic Games against Australia on Wednesday.Prior to the closed-doors friendly against Great Britain at the Todoriki Stadium in Tokyo last week, the Football Ferns’ last collective outing — competitive or otherwise — was at the Algarve Cup on March 10, 2020.New Zealand’s third-place playoff at that tournament was in fact the last match played there.Germany were declared winners after the final was cancelled when Italy withdrew due to the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic in their home country — in hindsight, it was an ominous precursor to a developing global crisis.The Ferns finished fourth after a 2-1 loss to Norway and, while head coach Tom Sermanni recalls the match with perfect clarity, he also remembers having no inkling at that point that it would be their last time together for well over a year.Instead of planning a series of camps and international friendlies for the lead-in to Tokyo, Sermanni spent the rest of the year stranded in Australia as the coronavirus spread around the world slamming borders shut. He travelled around the country where possible, to watch the four New Zealand players plying their trade in the W-League, but had to rely on television broadcasts, match streaming and written reports to keep tabs on the balance of a squad scattered around seven different countries on three separate continents.While 17 members of that side who participated in the 2020 Algarve Cup will pull on a New Zealand shirt once more in Tokyo this month, health issues have resulted in the absence of two important names from the team sheet.Rebekah Stott was planning to appear in her third Olympic campaign for the Ferns in Japan before being diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in February 2021.On the day her teammates run out on the pitch in Tokyo to face Australia in their opening Group G match, Stott will be in Melbourne awaiting the results of a PET Scan which will tell her if she is in complete remission.The popular defender, who made a heart-warming return to the football pitch with NPLW side Bulleen Lions in Melbourne last week, is an important part of the Ferns’ culture and she has written in her blog that her absence from the team is tough to take even though she knows her health is the priority at this time. – “I am fortunate enough to have represented my country at two Olympic Games already, but it doesn’t make the heartbreak of missing out this year, in one of my favourite countries, any easier,” Stott wrote.The 28-year-old might have played for Australia at under-17 and under-20 level, but her loyalties are very much with her country of birth.”Having represented both New Zealand and Australia, it’s always a special game for me, and although I hope my Aussie friends have great games, I hope for nothing but Kiwi success,” she wrote.Forward Rosie White, who has 100 international caps herself, will also be cheering her team on from home after she was sidelined with chronic illness.”I am heartbroken not to be able to compete with this incredible team inTokyo,” White announced on Instagram, expressing her disappointment.”Unfortunately, I’ve had a big health set back and have to slow down for the time being.”Life is mysterious and unpredictable but I couldn’t be more grateful for all the support I have received.”I’m so proud of all the women named in this squad and I can’t wait to be their biggest supporter.”While the combined experience of Stott and White will be hugely missed on the park, the Ferns have said they are using their teammates’ fighting spirit as inspiration.”We’re flipping it around and using it as something to go into this tournament firing with, to really push us on in the tournament,” Ria Percival told Goal.Percival will be the most experienced player in the Ferns side in Tokyo, with the Tottenham Hotspur defender chalking up 152 national team appearances with her last outing.Alongside veterans Ali Riley, Abby Erceg and Iceland-based CJ Bott, Percival will make up a backline charged with repelling the forays of some of the best strikers in the world.
Ferns captain Riley, who plays for Orlando Pride in the NWSL and Erceg from North Carolina Courage were the last two players into camp last week after their clubs kept them in the States for the Round 8 of the NWSL, drawing the ire of their national team coach.
While Sermanni reiterated that the reason for his outrage was solely based on what he termed the “unprofessional and discriminatory behaviour” of the two clubs in releasing their Brazilian players early and not extending the same courtesy to the New Zealanders, he was understandably relieved when Riley and Erceg — who are halfway through an NWSL season — arrived match fit.”It was the unfair treatment from the two clubs that was my only complaint,” Sermanni told ESPN.”However, the fact they [Riley and Erceg] have been playing, is so important. We have only five outfield players who have had competitive football in the past two months and they are at a different level of readiness compared to the other 14 outfield players we have.”Striker Hannah Wilkinson is one of those who has had a six-week break away from regular football, after completing her club season with MSV Duisburg in the Frauen Bundesliga at the beginning of June, travelling back to New Zealand and then completing the required 14 days of quarantine.The scorer of New Zealand’s last goal in international competition, 29 year-old Wilkinson will lead the attack, supported by the likes of Betsy Hassett, Katie Bowen and Olivia Chance.Although the Ferns’ strike-force failed to find the back of the net and the team conceded three goals in their one and only warm-up match, it doesn’t overly concern Sermanni.”The performance, in regards to where we were at in relation to Team GB is what I expected,” he said. “Many of their side play together in the top clubs in Europe and have played together in the last 12 months.”I think the value for us is that we got 90 minutes together for the first time in 16 months.”I said before the game that the result was not critical. The match gave us the opportunity to assess what we need to do going into the tournament, it gives both the staff and players a focus now on what we need to correct in a very short and unusually intensive period of time.”With an ominous task ahead, Sermanni is realistic about the disparity in preparations between the New Zealanders and their Group G rivals Australia, Sweden and the United States.”The USWNT has played 15 games this year. We’ve only played that many matches in the last two-and-a-half-years — and that included a World Cup year. Even Australia has managed to stay together since the June window,” he said.”I think preparation time will be the biggest difference, it magnifies the gulf now that the game is more professional but you go into the tournament with the hand you’re dealt and then you go in with the best preparation you can in the circumstances, to get the best results.”The Tokyo Olympics will be Sermanni’s last tournament in charge of New Zealand with the Scot stepping down after its conclusion. But his focus until then is solely on what he can control and, despite the disadvantages faced in the lead-in, he believes no one should be writing the Ferns off just yet.”For New Zealand, we need to get our tactics, preparation and selection spot on,” he said.”Obviously everyone has to turn up on the day but we feel if we can get those three things right, then we always have a chance and that’s what we are looking to do in this tournament.”
Mens Olympic Soccer Games to Watch
Mexico vs. France
Thursday, 4 a.m. (USA Network, Telemundo)
There’s a lot of buzz around Mexico’s men’s team going into the Olympics, and for good reason. Diego Lainez, the 21-year-old winger, is a star and surrounded by key veterans in goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa, midfielder Luis Romo, and striker Henry Martín.This game will be a great measuring stick. France defender Timothée Pembélé is a rising star with Paris Saint-Germain, and two of Les Bleus’ three over-age players play for Liga MX power Tigres: winger Florian Thauvin, and prolific striker André-Pierre Gignac.
Also Thursday: Egypt vs. Spain, 3:30 a.m. (Olympic Channel, Universo); New Zealand vs. South Korea, 4 a.m. (NBCSN); Ivory Coast vs. Saudi Arabia, 4:30 a.m. (Olympic Channel); Argentina vs. Australia, 6:30 a.m. (Olympic Channel, Universo); Japan vs. South Africa, 7 a.m. (NBCSN); Honduras vs. Romania, 7 a.m. (NBCOlympics.com); Brazil vs. Germany, 7:30 a.m. (USA Network, Telemundo)
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