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2023 Women's World Cup

It’s USWNT-Sweden, again. This time, the stakes are higher

For the seventh time in nine World Cups, it’s USA-Sweden. This time, one team is going home.

Ane Frosaker / SPP

It would not be a Women’s World Cup without a meeting between the United States and Sweden. The two historically strong teams will meet again on Sunday for the seventh time in nine editions of the tournament, but this time, the stakes are higher. One team is guaranteed to be going home.

Sweden confirmed its place atop Group G on Wednesday with a 2-0 win over Argentina. One night earlier, the U.S. stumbled its way into the knockout round with a scoreless draw against Portugal, meaning the Americans finished second in the group for the first time since 2011, when — of course — Sweden defeated them in the group finale.

“We always play Sweden in every major tournament without a doubt,” U.S. forward Alex Morgan said in the aftermath of Tuesday’s draw. “Probably every time since I’ve been on this team. So, we know them very well. We know their strengths. We’ll be watching with attention tomorrow.”

In 42 all-time meetings, the U.S. has won 23 and Sweden seven, with 12 draws between them. Four of the six World Cup meetings have ended in favor of the U.S., with Sweden winning that 2011 group-stage match and the two teams playing to a scoreless draw at the 2015 World Cup. Each time, beginning with the inaugural World Cup in 1991, they have met in the group stage.

Their most recent World Cup meeting in 2019 was a 2-0 victory in favor of the U.S., but it came with significant context. Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson hardly tried to hide the fact ahead of the meeting that he was happy to settle for second place in the group and avoid playing hosts France in Paris in the quarterfinals. The U.S. took that path and dispatched France en route to a second straight World Cup title. Sweden finished third for a third time in program history, one that still does not have a World Cup or Olympic title to its name despite a successful history.

This time around, nobody played for second place. Sweden trounced Italy, 5-0 in the group stage as part of their run to winning Group G. That victory gave them enough of a goal-difference cushion to logically (but noth mathematically clinch the group ahead of the final match day, meaning Gerhardsson could rest players. Sweden has been particularly clinical on set pieces at this World Cup.

Meanwhile, the U.S. struggled against Portugal and nearly crashed out of the tournament in the final second of the game. Ana Capeta‘s shot in second-half stoppage time hit the post when a goal would have sent debutants Portugal through and the U.S. home at the group stage for the first time.

“It’s not like we don’t have the pieces,” U.S. head coach Vlatko Andonovski said after Tuesday’s match. “It’s not like we have not done this before against good opponents. Like I said before the game, we have to stick to our principles, we have to stick to our game model, and we have to stick to our philosophy. We’ve executed our principles on both sides of the ball, offensively or defensively, against very good opponents with the group of players that we have here and I have no doubt that we can execute it with players going forward.”

Sweden and the U.S. last met at the Tokyo Olympics two years ago, where Sweden thrashed the U.S., 3-0 in the group stage. The U.S. picked itself up enough to earn a bronze medal, while Sweden claimed silver, falling to Canada on penalties in the gold-medal match.

On Sunday in Melbourne, Australia, the two meet in the Round of 16. The U.S. has never finished worse than third at a World Cup. Ahead of the 2016 Olympics, the Americans had never finished with worse than a silver medal at the Games. Sweden defeated them in penalties in the quarterfinal, however, ending the team’s dominance (but also sparking the United States’ rebuild ahead of the 2019 World Cup).

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