In front of a sellout of 32,716 overwhelmingly American fans in Winnipeg, No 2-ranked USA and No 5-ranked Sweden looked out of ideas and perhaps daunted by the hype surrounding this high-caliber face-off. After few good chances or memorable moments, the USA and Sweden settled for a scoreless draw.
The match held major implications for both sides – each would be the toughest competition the other would face in the group stage, meaning a win could’ve perhaps secured a position atop the group. But neither side was able to get much going, with the match coming down to perhaps one defensive moment.
Fifteen minutes from full-time, left back Meghan Klingenberg made a jumping goalline clearance with her head, denying a probable game-winner from Caroline Seger. A corner kick from Elin Rubensson was knocked to Seger, who fired with good pace to the far post, but Klingenberg got a head on it, knocking it off the crossbar and out to safety.
“I was absolutely sure it was the winning goal, and I couldn’t believe that it was bouncing out,” said Sweden coach Pia Sundhage.
USA coach Jill Ellis wasn’t surprised, though. “Believe it or not, we’ve actually practiced that,” she said. “All 5ft 1in of her, you’ve got to work on that. But she was brilliant – brilliant timing.”
Klingenberg quipped: “Luckily, I was paying attention in practice.”
Friday was the first time Sundhage faced her old team since Ellis took over. Sundhage coached the USA for five years, leading them to two Olympic finals and a World Cup final. She won the gold medal for the US in 2012 and left for the coaching job in Sweden at the end of the year.
Both sides had chances, but goalkeeper Hope Solo was not called on for the kind of spectacular heroics she served up repeatedly against Australia on Monday in the USA’s 3-1 win over the Matildas.
In the 49th minute, Megan Rapinoe slipped Carli Lloyd a pass through the box in that Lloyd slid on to, for a shot that Hedvig Lindahl tipped over the crossbar, her best save on the night.
Later, Lloyd suffered a nasty collision with Jessica Samuelsson as both went in for the header, requiring Samuelsson to get staples and wrap her head in dressing before returning to the field. Lloyd told reporters afterward she feels fine.
The US outshot Sweden, 12 to nine, but the match turned into a defensive chess match as both sides stayed compact and looked cautious of being beaten by a quick counter-attack.
While Klingenberg played the starring role of the defense, center-backs Becky Sauerbrunn and Julie Johnston both had laudable performances.
“We’re just doing our jobs in the back. Our first priority is to keep it zero, so we have to be happy about that,” Klingenberg said. “But we have to know that we’re part of the attack as well, so we’re not as well so we’re not as happy about our going forward, because we weren’t helping create quality opportunities for scoring.”
Notably, Abby Wambach didn’t start on Friday, her first time not starting in a World Cup match since 2007 and only her second time ever not starting in a World Cup. She came in as a second-half substitute while Sydney Leroux and Christen Press started up top.
“I felt like we needed some space up top, and added mobility,” Ellis said of her decision not to start Wambach. “Abby is comfortable in any role, including coming off the bench.”
When Wambach came on in the 67th minute, the Americans shifted from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3, in a chase for the game-winner that never came. Wambach got a diving header on goal that forced a save from Lindahl in a quiet night for all the attackers on the field.
Leroux was perhaps let off on a handball – in the 23rd minute, Leroux blocked a shot in the box with her elbow pointed away from her body, but the referee made no call.
With the draw and split in points, the Americans hold onto sole possession of first place in Group D, with 4 points and one game left before the knockout round. Australia has 3 points, Sweden has 2 points and Nigeria has 1.
The Americans aren’t yet assured a spot in the knockout rounds, but a loss by multiple goals to Nigeria would be necessary to keep the USA from the round of 16.
Up next, the USA faces Nigeria in Vancouver on Tuesday while Sweden faces Australia in Edmonton.