USA vs Sweden Preview: Can the World champions improve in the knockout stages?

Sweden will look to cause a major upset in Brasilia on Friday to knock out a US side who haven't been up to their best.

USA vs Sweden Preview: Can the World champions improve in the knockout stages?
Image credit: VAVEL

USA take on Sweden in the quarterfinals of the Olympics on Friday and the World champions will have to improve on their below par performances if they are to win their fourth successive gold medal in Rio.

The Americans bid farewell to the stifling heat of the Amazon and travel more than 1,000 miles to Brazil's capital Brasilia - where the humidity is cut by half and the temperatures are 10 to 20 degrees cooler, to face the Blue and Yellows with the hope of booking a place in the semi-finals.

USWNT will have to raise the bar if they are to win gold once again

The US successfully finished Group G at the top of the pile as would be expected. But, none of the matches were impressive performances, with many branding the Americans play as sloppy and claiming they were in need of a wake-up call. However, there shouldn't be cause for worry just yet as the USWNT are well known for improving game-by-game in major tournaments, just as they did in the run up to winning the Women's World Cup last year.

The World champions closed out the group stage with a total of seven points after a disappointing 2-2 draw against a plucky Colombia side in Manaus. Jill Ellis' side dominated possession, creating 16 chances to the Colombians three, but the performance didn't live up to the high level of performance, we are accustomed to seeing from the USWNT.

When up against a lowly-ranked Las Chicas Superpoderosas side, the US went behind courtesy of an uncharacteristic Hope Solo goal-line blunder, they then took a 2-1 lead through Olympic debutants Crystal Dunn and 18-year-old Mallory Pugh, before a shock late equaliser in the final minute meant they had to settle for a 2-2 draw.

Ellis' team took straight victories in their opening group matches, with a 2-0 win over New Zealand and a tight victory over France, before moving on to the knockout stages.

Carli Lloyd celebrates her goal against New Zealand | Photo: Getty Images
Carli Lloyd celebrates her goal against New Zealand | Photo: Getty Images

Sweden far from impressive 

The Swedes have also made a slow start to the tournament, winning one,losing one and drawing one match. Their victory came against South Africa in the opening game of the women's football at Rio 2016, defender Nilla Fischer scored the game's only goal as Pia Hundhage's team dominated against a resilient South African side.

The Sweden manager will come against her former side in the quarter finals, whom she was victorious with in both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games. They have lacked creativity and their shooting has been less than perfect so far in this competition, so her side will be looking to improve as Sundhage knows all too well, what it takes to beat a side as good as the USWNT.

Will the US get better with each game?

US coach Jill Ellis has carefully managed her squad in the run up to the quarter finals with only Hope Solo and defenders Becky Sauerbrunn and Kelley O'Hara playing ever minute of the opening three matches.

After a hefty team rotation for the Colombia match, Ellis will likely return to a more familiar starting XI. As expected, Carli Lloyd will most probably sit in behind Alex Morgan, even though the pairing have only scored three goals between them in the tournament so far. Out wide, Crystal Dunn and young starlet Mallory Pugh are still competing for the spot on the left side, whilst Tobin Heath occupies the opposite flank.

Ellis is yet to determine her favoured central midfield pairing with Morgan Brian, Lindsay Horan and Allie Long all vying for the two positions. Brian and Olympic debutant Long have started two of the last three games so far.

Sundhage's side will look for a repeat performance against the US, after her side held the World champions to a goalless draw in Canada last summer.

They will play the first Olympic quarter final on Friday in Brasilia, followed by China - Germany at 3pm in Salvador, Canada - France at 6pm in Sao Paulo and finally Brazil host Australia at 8pm in Belo Horizonte.