The United States is using its trip to the knockout stages to make a fresh start at the Women’s World Cup, as the four-time champion tries to shake off a frustrating group stage before facing formidable rival Sweden.
The Americans are going for an unprecedented third consecutive title but just squeezed into the round of 16 after being held to a draw by both the Netherlands and Portugal.
“It’s a new tournament starting now,” said co-captain Lindsey Horan, adding that the team needed to rekindle its joy for the game in order to succeed.
“Once we get a little bit more of that joy back ... things are going to move a little bit better on the field, we’re going to have more rhythm, we’re going to have more confidence and things will come, chances, more and more chances will come.”
Embracing joy became a tricky subject for the team, however, as it was the target of criticism for dancing and smiling with fans at Eden Park after the scoreless draw against Portugal that allowed it to proceed in the tournament.
Horan’s old team mate and mentor, Carli Lloyd, levelled some of the toughest critiques during a Fox broadcast, questioning the team’s mentality after an underwhelming performance.
“It’s kind of frustrating for me to hear,” Horan told reporters, calling the comments “noise” that she needed to put to the back of her mind.
“You can’t question that we weren’t working as hard as we possibly could. We know that things could have been better. We know that we could have done more.”
The Americans hope to quieten the naysayers against Sweden, an opponent with whom they have a long history, having met in the group stage in six previous editions of the World Cup.
“One of the biggest battles for us is an opponent like this,” said Horan. “It’s always a massive battle. I think physically, mentally, you know, everything that goes into it. And a lot of the game is back and forth.”
Sweden ended the Americans’ 2016 Rio Olympic run in the quarterfinal and got its campaign at the Tokyo Games off to a sour note when it won 3-0 in the group-stage opener.
Sweden has unleashed an array of weapons at the World Cup, with its set-piece prowess giving opponents perhaps the toughest time.
“It’s going to be a constant focus on everything,” said Horan.
“That’s a team that can bring, you know, the aerial presence (in) set pieces, the crossing ability and getting people in the box. So I think that’s one thing that we actually need to match, you know, defensively.”
The United States plays Sweden in Melbourne on Sunday.
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