KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTING —- Hope Solo finished her Rio 216 odyssey as gracelessly as she had begun it after a penalty shootout ended the United States’ 12-year reign as Olympic women’s football champions.
Solo had cost the Americans any local sympathy with her pre-tournment jibe about the zika virus. She then indulged in the time-wasting gamesmanship of changing her gloves before the killing final penalty of the shootout defeat by Sweden – and followed up by describing the winners as “a bunch of cowards.”
The US, Olympic champions four times in the five tournaments since 2000, fell 4-3 on spotkicks after a 1-1 extra-time draw in the quarter-final in Brasilia. Sweden will play hosts Brazil – also semi-final winners on penalties, against Australia – after the Americans had rescued the right to the extra halfhour only with a late equaliser.
Defeat is a rare occurrence for the Americans, and even more so in competition. The bitterness of the experience was etched in the 35-year-old’s reaction after the game.
Solo said: “We played a bunch of cowards . . . They dropped off. They didn’t want to open play. They didn’t want to pass the ball. They didn’t want to play great. It was a combative game, a physical game. Exactly what they wanted.
“I think it was very cowardly. But they won. They’re moving on and we’re going home.”
The last time the US and Sweden had met at the women’s Olympic tournament was in 1996 in Orlando when the hosts won 2-1. Wearing the Sweden No7 shirt that day was Pia Sundhage. Now 20 years on, Sundhage was on the touchline in Brasilia as their head coach, guiding them to victory over the US whom she had led to two gold medals.
Sweden played cautiously for much of the first half, conceding possession to the Americans and not allowing their focus to be disturbed by a 15th-minute injury to Fridolina Rolfo which brought Stina Blackstenius into the game.
The enforced change proved significant. Just after the hour Blackstenius held off Julie Johnston long enough to convert an assist from Lisa Dahlkvist. They held the lead for 17 minutes before Alex Morgan equalised to earn the further halfhour.
Extra-time produced history when both teams used the newly-permitted fourth substitute – American Lindsey Horan for Mallory Pugh then Sweden’s Emma Berglund came on for Jessica Samuelsson. However there were no more goals so that meant the shootout.
Morgan missed the Americans’ first and Press their fifth before Solo’s gamesmanship proved insufficient to deter Dahlkvist from striking the winner and preventing the US from reaching an Olympic final for the first time.
Sundhage was unimpressed by Solo’s salvo, saying: “I don’t give a crap. We’re going to Rio, she’s not.”
Brazil on penalties, too
In the semi-finals Sweden go to the Estadio Olimpico in Rio de Janeiro to play hosts Brazil who are new favourites even though they edged Australia only 7-6 on penalties after a 0-0 extra-time draw in the Mineirao in Belo Horizonte.
Goalkeeper Barbara was the heroine with two stops including the decisive last save from Alanna Kennedy. Brazil’s only miss was suffered, of all people, by captain and inspiration Marta.
The other semi-final, in Belo Horizonte, will be between Canada and European champions Germany.
Both their quarter-finals ended in 1-0 victories. The Germans beat China in Salvador with a 77th-minute winning goal from Melanie Behringer while Canada owed victory over France to a 56th-minute goal by Sophie Schmidt.