Stina Blackstenius scored twice as Sweden sent out a message with a convincing 3-0 victory over world champions USA on the opening day of Group G at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
After a sustained spell of pressure, Blackstenius finally broke the deadlock in the 25th-minute to give Sweden a thoroughly deserved lead, making a late run to the near post to glance a header from Sofia Jakobsson’s cross past goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.
Even though they struck the post through Rose Lavelle on the stroke of half-time, the USA would have been happy to be trailing by just the one goal at the interval, as Blackstenius had two more presentable opportunities she failed to convert in an opening 45 minutes completely dominated by the world’s fifth-best ranked side.
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The below-par Alex Morgan was hooked at the interval as USA boss Vlatko Andonovski made two changes to his side. But the alterations failed to spark an improvement, and nine minutes after the restart, Blackstenius would get another chance and this time she wasn’t going to miss as she slotted home from point-blank range, reacting quickest after Amanda Ilestedt’s header crashed off the post following a corner delivery.
Christian Press’s ricocheted shot hit the woodwork as the USA rallied, but they were caught on the counter-attack as Sweden put the game to bed through substitute Lina Hurtig’s smart header.
The USA, who were unbeaten in 44 matches prior to the match, will aim to bounce back when they play New Zealand on Saturday, the same day Sweden meet Australia.
Stina Blackstenius - Sweden
Image credit: Getty Images
TALKING POINT - Sweden show their credentials
This was always going to be a stern test of the USA’s quality as opening games do not come much more difficult than Sweden, the painful quarter-final defeat in Rio 2016 still fresh in their minds.
Andonovski would have been well aware of the threat Sweden can carry and yet his side were completely overwhelmed at times in midfield and the defence appeared totally unprepared for Sweden’s fluid attack and at set-pieces. The inquest will have already started after this harrowing defeat, but while there’s plenty of work to do, the USA should still comfortably progress from the group. This was only their second-ever defeat in a group game in the Olympics; the only previous time they lost - 2-0 to Norway on the opening day of Bejing 2008 - they went on to take gold.
It’s clear that Sweden have grown as a cohesive unit over the years, and having claimed a silver medal back in 2016, Peter Gerhardsson’s side have shown they deserve to be amongst the favourites to take gold in 2021. This is a day they will remember for a long time, but it could get a whole lot better before the tournament is over.
PLAYER OF THE MATCH – Stina Blackstenius (Sweden)
After making a nervy start on such a big occasion, missing a chance she would normally have easily converted, Blackstenius made amends with a lovely headed finish and went on to score a crucial second. Goals win games and the 25-year-old clearly has a natural ability to find the net.
USA: Naeher 7, O’Hara 5, Dahlkemper 5, Sauerbrunn 5, Dunn 5, Horan 5, S Mewis 5, Lavelle 6, Heath 5, Morgan 5, Press 5. Subs: K Mewis 5, Ertz 5, Lloyd 5, Davidson N/A, Rapinoe 5.
Sweden: Lindhal 7, Glas 6, Ilestedt 7, Bjorn 6, Andersson 7, Angeldahl 7, Asllani 7, Seger 6, Jakobsson 8, Blackstenius 8, Rolfo 7. Subs: Bennison 5, Janogy 5, Hurtig 7, Schough 5, Roddar.
15’ - A let off for USA! Trying to play out from the back, Dunn gifts possession to Blackenstenius on the edge of the penalty area. She rolls it to Jakobsson, who really ought to score, but she doesn't get any direction in her shot and it's straight into the gloves of Naeher.
25' - GOAL! Sweden 1-0 USA (Stina Blackstenius): It had been coming! Jakobsson's cross picks out Blackstenuis at the near post and her glancing header leaves Naeher with no chance.
45' - USA hit the post! They’re a whisker away from levelling the scores as the post comes to Sweden's rescue! Lavelle makes a late run to the back post to meet O'Hara's cross and sees her header crashes off the woodwork, and that would have been so cruel on Sweden - just before half-time.
54’ – GOAL! Sweden 2-0 USA (Stina Blackstenius): Blackstenius has her second to give Sweden breathing space in the match! Like all poachers are, she's waiting for the scraps from a corner delivery and she's ready and waiting to apply the finish at the far post after a header had come back off the post.
71’ - The USA hit the post - again! Rapinoe drives forward on the left and feeds Press, who gets her shot away. It takes a deflection, hits the post and Sweden's luck seems to be in today.
72' - GOAL! Sweden 3-0 USA (Lina Hurtig): That should be that! Like she did the last times the sides met, Hurtig scores with a header! The substitute wriggles free from her marker to meet Glas' cross from the left and she makes no mistake with a smart header. What a statement from Sweden on the opening day!
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