The women’s football tournament at the Olympics was filled with unexpected fodder and skewed results. There’s the entertainment value and offensive potential of Zambia, the lowest-scoring team on the field, and its star, Barbra Banda. The Zambian group, with all four teams playing two games, scored 32 goals, while Banda and the more established Netherlands Vivianne Miedema scored six each.
And while the tournament overall featured scores like 10-3, 4-4, 3-3, 5-0, 4-2 and 6-1, the most shocking remains the 3-0 result that Sweden left to the United States women’s national team to open the group game. The United States bounced back from that to comfortably defeat New Zealand, but that loss has effects that appear to linger in the knockout stage. The United States will face Australia and star striker Sam Kerr on Tuesday to wrap up the group game, knowing it has a direct set of outcome-based scenarios. The most likely scenario is that the United States will fail to finish first in its Olympic group for the first time since the first Olympic women’s football tournament in 1996. The story is strongly on the side of the United States against the Matildas, with a 26-1 – 3 all-time records in their bouts, but more recent history indicates Australia won’t make things easy and keep the pressure on a defensive unit that hasn’t had the cleanest couple of matches. There is also the question of time, with the stormy conditions around Kashima threatening to change the process.
Regardless, there is still a lot to be determined for access to the last day of group play through competition – the last two games of each group are played simultaneously, starting with US Group G at 4:00 a.m. ET, but here’s how things are going for Vlatko Andonovski’s team wins, loses or draws:
USA WIN OR DRAW
The most likely scenario is that the United States will finish second in their group (a win or a draw solidifies a top two finish) and that they have a daunting path to gold. This was always the case for the loser of the opening match Sweden-US, if there was one, given how the rest of the group stacked up. If that were to happen (and it would take a Sweden defeat to New Zealand and a US win over Australia in which it also compensates for a three-differential deficit for the US to finish first), then it will start to play in the quarterfinals. of the final with the Netherlands or Brazil, depending on which of the two wins their group.
Taking on the Netherlands would mark a rematch in the hard-fought 2019 Women’s World Cup final, while Brazil, coached by former US manager Pia Sundhage, frightened the United States in their most recent SheBelieves Cup fights, but lacked the final product. to make counts on the board. Both teams are on four points after two games and face opponents they should beat fairly easily (Netherlands-China, Brazil-Zambia are the two matchups), meaning it will most likely come down to goal difference. The Dutch have a +2 lead at present, so both will be out to increase the score on Tuesday.
The team of Great Britain, Canada or Japan and the second-placed Netherlands / Brazil will meet in the other quarter-final on that side of the group, while Sweden will be the overwhelming favorite on the other side if things go as planned. The United States challenged the knockout stage for a World Cup title two summers ago and, due to their own failures, have a similar path unfolding.
LOSS OF THE UNITED STATES
Defeat would send the United States to a fantastic third place in the group, which, psychological and moral effects aside, would not actually be the worst thing in the world from a competitive point of view, at least not for the quarter-finals. (There is a scenario where the United States doesn’t go through to the knockout stage, but it does highly unlikely and would require a defeat, a Japan victory over Chile and China or Zambia doing the unthinkable to finish four points.)
A third place would actually result in a slightly more favorable opponent in the final eight (Canada or Team Great Britain would be the enemy), but if you know anything about the USWNT, that is to go back to a knockout stage or shoot for any thing but a win is not a consideration. And while the immediate payoff for the quarter-finals would be a marginally less difficult foe, a rematch against Sweden would be looming in the semifinals. The United States would have no problem confronting the Swedes again and would appreciate the possibility of redemption, both for last week and for 2016, but the preference would surely be that it occurs in a match for the gold medal.
The safety net provided by the Olympic format – and the likelihood that the US has already done enough to qualify for the knockout stage regardless of Tuesday’s result – takes some of the pressure off the group final, but for a team that try to refine and refine what went wrong while continuing to restore confidence in the games that matter most, there is still a lot at stake.
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