Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson said his in-form side are “convinced” they can knock the United States out of the Women’s World Cup after setting up a last-16 tie with the holders this weekend.
A Rebecka Blomqvist header and an Elin Rubensson penalty gave a much-changed Sweden team a 2-0 win over Argentina in Hamilton on Wednesday as they topped Group G with three wins out of three.
The world’s third-ranked team will now head to Melbourne to play the USA on Sunday, after the reigning world champions stumbled out of their group in second place with just one win.
It will be their first meeting since Sweden beat the USA 3-0 at the Tokyo Olympics two years ago on their way to taking the silver medal.
“We have played really good group-stage games, we have won all three of them, and we also beat them in the Olympics,” said Sofia Jakobsson, who came into Sweden’s line-up against Argentina and set up the opening goal.
“We are a confident team and looking forward to playing these games where it really matters and you have to win to move forward.”
Sweden, who came third at the 2019 World Cup, had already secured a place in the knockout phase before their final group game by thrashing Italy 5-0 last weekend.
Even a defeat was unlikely to prevent them topping their group and so Gerhardsson made nine changes.
Key forwards Fridolina Rolfo and Stina Blackstenius were among those rested, with the centre-back pairing of Magdalena Eriksson and Amanda Ilestedt the only players to keep their places.
Blomqvist headed in Jakobsson’s cross for the opener in the 66th minute on a wet and windy night before substitute Rubensson clinched the win with a last-minute penalty after Blomqvist was fouled.
“The US are ranked number one. It might be better to play them on Sunday than in the semis or final,” said Gerhardsson.
“From a psychological perspective we know we can beat them. I think the players are convinced they can definitely win on Sunday and I believe that too.”
– Olympics victory –
Two goals from Blackstenius and one from Lina Hurtig gave Sweden a convincing win over the USA in Tokyo, although Gerhardsson said rewatching that game recently made him realise it was not one of his side’s best performances.
He highlighted the absence for the US of midfielder Rose Lavelle due to suspension as good news, while Jakobsson said Sweden remained wary of the holders.
“They have fantastic players,” said the 33-year-old, who is a club teammate of USA stars Alex Morgan and Naomi Girma at NWSL side San Diego Wave.
“You can never count out the USA. They have been in these games many, many times, and they have won the World Cup the last two times.
“Even if their game has not been fully 100 percent I know when they go into the end of the tournament and it is games where you win or you go home, it will be super tough to play against them.”
Sweden are just the second team after Japan to complete the group phase with a 100 percent record. They have scored nine goals and conceded only one.
“I feel like we have played really well,” Jakobsson added.
“We score in different ways, from set-pieces and in open play. We feel happy, we have won three out of three and we have confidence.”
Wednesday’s result meant elimination for Argentina, who have still never won a World Cup match in 12 attempts across four appearances at the finals.