The women's soccer draws for the Tokyo Olympics were announced on Wednesday, and the USWNT's first match might be a barnburner.
The USWNT was assigned to Group G (the three groups are E, F and G) along with Australia, New Zealand, and Sweden, and their first match of the Olympics will be against none other than Sweden. The same Sweden that handed the USWNT their only elimination in an Olympics or World Cup since 2011.
What's the history between USWNT and Sweden?
The USWNT has been outlandishly successful for many years, which is what makes the failures so memorable. Since 1991 they've won or placed in the top three of every World Cup and Olympics except one: the 2016 Rio Olympics.
After advancing to the quarterfinals in Rio, the USWNT faced Sweden. After tying 1-1 through 30 minutes of extra time, they went to penalty kicks, and the US women were stunningly eliminated. It was not only the first time ever that the USWNT hadn't advanced to the gold medal game at the Olympics, it was the first time they'd ever failed to advance to the semifinals of a major tournament.
Those are not the kinds of firsts any team wants to be responsible for, and the loss stung. Then-goalie Hope Solo was particularly peeved, calling the Swedish team "cowards" for their style of play and saying that the better team hadn't won.
Solo eventually apologized for those comments.
Loss to Sweden still reverberates
In the five years since their shocking loss to Sweden, the USWNT's success has continued. They won the SheBelieves Cup three times, became the first women's team in history to win four World Cup titles, and lost a grand total of four matches.
Being eliminated by Sweden certainly wasn't a highlight, but it may have helped the team in the long run. Megan Rapinoe, who was on that 2016 team and will almost certainly be on the upcoming Olympic roster, recently told NBC Sports that it inspired the team to do better.
“We have very high standards for the team, which is championship or total failure, so we felt like total failures,” Rapinoe said. “It definitely left, I wouldn’t say a bad taste. I think it left a fire under people to never let that happen again.”
The USWNT nearly had its 39-game unbeaten streak snapped earlier this month against Sweden, needing a late and controversial Rapinoe penalty to earn a draw. The Olympic roster hasn't been announced yet, but it will probably include a number of players who were part of that 2016 loss to Sweden.
It's safe to assume they'll do everything they possibly can to avoid a repeat.
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