They’ve already met in five of the past seven group stages, so it’s no surprise that the United States and Sweden were both drawn into Group F of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, but the game carries some extra attention this time around following the 2016 Olympics.
On August 12, 2016, in the quarterfinals of the Olympics in Brazil, Sweden beat the United States in penalty kicks to send the U.S. to their earliest exit ever at a major international tournament. Next summer, they’ll be meeting in the group stage for the fifth consecutive Women’s World Cup and sixth time overall.
“Sweden is a good matchup for us in terms of just probably anticipating a team that’s going to slow the tempo a little bit and maybe sit in a little bit. Again, I think we are further along in the track in terms of being able to manage that scenario if it’s presented [to] us with our personnel,” U.S. women’s national team head coach Jill Ellis said in a conference call with reporters on Saturday following the draw.
“They obviously have a different coach [from 2016]. They have some new faces. They have some familiar faces, as do we. So I think it’s going to be a game that’s pretty tactical in terms of that.”
Sweden head coach Peter Gerhardsson replaced Pia Sundhage following the 2017 Euros, so it’ll be his first time facing the United States.
“It’s history. Even if I don’t have a history [with the U.S.], but many people have a history. My players have a history,” Gerhardsson told ussoccer.com after the draw. “It’s going to be a big game, an interesting game, and, of course, important game.”
Sweden was seeded into Pot 2, along with the Netherlands, Japan, Brazil, Spain and Norway, meaning that no matter which team was drawn into Group F, it would’ve presented a challenge for the United States. “That second group of six teams, there’s not one you’d really pick,” Ellis said.
— USWNT (@ussoccer_wnt) December 8, 2018
Joining the United States and Sweden in Group F are Thailand and Women’s World Cup debutants Chile. The United States will begin defense of their 2015 title on June 11 vs. Thailand at Stade Auguste-Delaune in Reims (3 p.m. ET). They’ll then face Chile on June 16 at Parc des Princes in Paris (9 a.m. ET), before the meeting with Sweden on June 20 at Stade Océane in Le Havre (3 p.m. ET).
One player in particular who is excited about the game in Paris: Portland Thorns FC and U.S. midfielder Lindsay Horan, who started her professional career in France, playing for Paris Saint-Germain.
“Of course, if I make the team, playing in Paris would be surreal for me. I might actually start crying getting back to where it all started for me,” she said in comments shared by U.S. Soccer.
The United States and Sweden have met in the group stage in 1991, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2015, and now will do the same in 2019. Ellis said she told Swedish media before the draw that the U.S. would be drawn with Sweden.
“It’s like a rule now that we have to face them every time in the opening round,” Seattle Reign FC and U.S. forward Megan Rapinoe said in comments shared by U.S. Soccer.
“I just knew they were going to be in our group,” Sky Blue FC/U.S. midfielder Carli Lloyd said in the U.S. Soccer news release. “I think obviously, looking back to the last big tournament, we have that bad taste in our mouth from the last time we played them. For us, it’s even more motivation.”
Sweden vs. United States will be the final group stage game for both sides, like it was in 2011, when Sweden won, dropping the U.S. to second in the group and setting up the epic quarterfinal win over Brazil in Dresden, Germany.
“Obviously Sweden, there,” Portland Thorns FC and USWNT midfielder Tobin Heath said on Fox Sports when asked what stands out to her about the United States’ group. “Especially after the last Olympics. But it’s an interesting group for us. I think it’s a different kind of group than we’ve faced in the past.”
Utah Royals FC and USWNT defender Kelley O’Hara, speaking with Major League Soccer ahead of the 2018 MLS Cup in Atlanta, said she thought of the 2016 loss when Sweden was added to Group F. “Immediately when they got put in our group, it was the memories of 2016 coming back and just knowing that we need to get a little bit of redemption,” she said.
On paper, Group F is one of the weaker groups in the tournament, based on world rankings. Sweden is ranked No. 9 in the world, and are the Olympic silver medalists. But Chile is ranked No. 38 and making their Women’s World Cup debut. Thailand is ranked No. 29 and appearing in their second Women’s World Cup after debuting in 2015.
“I think you can spin it either way in terms of your group. I think last time around we were in, people labeled it I think the Group of Death. … I think ultimately it all falls on us to be ready and this group knows how to kick that switch in terms of knowing when it’s the knockout. Regardless of who we play in our group, I think we know what’s at stake when it’s win or go home,” Ellis said.
“Whatever teams were rolled out in front of us, you’ve got to play and you’ve got to prepare. I think we will be really locked on because we do know we’ve got to get points in those games. Having played Chile twice [in 2018], it certainly helped, because they were a complete unknown.”
Though United States won it all in 2015, Ellis said it’s not about defending a title, it’s about attacking a new one in 2019.
“Some of these players that are going to play in this World Cup weren’t on that team. So they’re not really defending a trophy. They are going to attack a new one. That’s going to be our mindset about this World Cup. Sure, we are quote/unquote the defending champions, but we have to approach this like we are a team that has a unique opportunity. I think we’re incredibly talented. A lot of good things have to fall into place to win a World Cup. It’s really about what’s in front of us than what we’ve done previously,” Ellis said.
For now, the focus is on Game 1 vs. Thailand.
“The most important game is the first one,” Ellis said. “I know everybody says that, but it is because you want to have that good feeling going into that second game, so I think we will come full throttle in the first opening match.”
The groups are set.
— NWSL (@NWSL) December 8, 2018