The Americans can’t do things the easy way.
Needing only a tie to avoid Brazil in the quarterfinals, the U.S. fell 2-1 to Sweden on Wednesday night, the team’s fourth loss since November and first ever in group play at the World Cup.
“After, what I said to the team is, my glass is half-full,” U.S. coach Pia Sundhage said. “Even though we lost, we can come out as a winner if we take a different path. ... We really want to play in the final. But we have to play some great games, play some great teams. I really want us to embrace this process. I think the team will get stronger. That’s the plan.
“It’s a little bit different for me to talk about the final,” she added. “That’s what it takes when we take a different road.”
Lisa Dahlkvist converted a penalty and Nilla Fischer scored on a free kick for Sweden, which won Group C and will play Australia on Sunday in Augsburg. Abby Wambach got the U.S. back in the game in the 67th minute with her first goal of the tournament, but as they have all year the Americans squandered too many other chances and now must Brazil on Sunday in Dresden.
The U.S. pulled back a goal in the 67th when Wambach headed -- actually, it was more like shouldered -- in a corner kick from Lauren Cheney with an assist from the head of Sweden’s Fischer. It was the first goal of the tournament for Wambach and her 10th overall at the World Cup, second among Americans to the 12 scored by Michelle Akers.
“Like I said, if I score and we don’t win, I won’t be happy,” said Wambach, who played despite missing the previous two days of practice with tendinitis in her right Achilles’ tendon.
The Americans pushed hard for the equalizer, repeatedly forcing Hedvig Lindahl to bat balls down or make saves. She punched away a hard shot by Megan Rapinoe in the 54th after Rapinoe neatly sidestepped Sara Thunebro, and World Cup rookie Kelly O’Hara missed a wide-open net from about 8 yards in the 86th.
AUSTRALIA 2, NORWAY 1 -- Kyah Simon scored twice to put her team into the quarterfinals.
Elise Thorsnes had given Norway the lead in the 56th minute, but Simon tied it just a minute later. Her powerful header from Kim Carroll’s corner kick then sealed the win in the 87th.
BRAZIL 3, EQUATORIAL GUINEA 0 -- Erika’s brilliant footwork got a frustrated Brazil on track to secure the top spot in Group D.
After the Africans neutralized the heavy favorites with dogged defending for 49 minutes, Erika controlled a loose ball on her chest, then tapped it from her right foot to the left to send a volley flying past goalie Miriam from 13 yards.
Five minutes later, Marta, the world’s top player, sent a low pinpoint cross into the center to Christiane for the second goal. Christiane celebrated with jubilant body flips, and then added the third score from the penalty spot in injury time.
NORTH KOREA 0, COLOMBIA 0 -- North Korea and Colombia drew 0-0, ensuring neither team scored a goal at the tournament.