The Americans can't do things the easy way.
Needing only a tie to avoid Brazil in the quarterfinals, the United States 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 in Wolfsburg, Germany.
"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."
Lisa Dahlkvist converted a penalty kick, 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 Team USA 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 face Brazil on Sunday in Dresden. Brazil was the runner-up to the Americans at the last two Olympics and to Germany at the 2007 World Cup and is led by five-time FIFA Player of the Year Marta.
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With German chancellor Angela Merkel and the Germany squad watching among the crowd of 23,468, Sweden put the United States on its heels early after defender Amy LePeilbet tripped Lotta Schelin in the box in the 14th minute to earn a penalty kick. Dahlkvist took the penalty, curling it into the left side of the net. Hope Solo dived in full stretch, but the ball was just beyond her fingertips.
"I was thinking that she's smaller than me now in this moment," Dahlkvist said. "She's afraid of me."
The goal snapped Solo's scoreless streak at 796 minutes, second longest in U.S. history. It also ended a run of eight shutouts, dating to March 2010.
Sweden is one of the few teams that can match up physically with the United States, and the Americans didn't always handle it well. Such as in the 35th minute, when Rachel Buehler was whistled for dragging down Therese Sjogran about 25 yards out. Fischer, filling in as captain with Caroline Seger suspended, hammered a free kick into LePeilbet's thigh. Solo, already moving to her left, was caught off-guard and could do nothing to stop the ball from bouncing into the net.
"It was very unfortunate," Solo said. "I felt like I didn't have a chance to make a play on them, and that's frustrating."
The United States 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 in World Cup play, second among Americans to the 12 scored by Michelle Akers.
The Americans pushed hard for the equalizer, repeatedly forcing Hedvig Lindahl to bat down balls 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.
In the first half, Lindahl punched away Cheney's cross to Wambach at the far post in the 29th minute. Three minutes later, Amy Rodriguez had a gimme chip over Lindahl, only to see it bang off the crossbar.
"Until the referee blew the whistle, I really thought we were going to equalize," Wambach said.
Instead, the Americans are facing yet another bumpy road, just as they did in qualifying. At the 2008 Olympics, the Americans lost their first game in group play, then ran off five straight victories, including a 1-0 win in overtime against the Brazilians.
"This team's not going to give up," Solo said. "I believe in this team coming back."
Brazil 3, Equatorial Guinea 0: The South Americans scored and sambaed to the top spot in Group D in Frankfurt and will play the United States in the quarterfinals.
Erika struck first, controlling a loose ball on her chest, then tapping it from her right foot to the left to send a volley flying past goalie Miriam from 13 yards out. A pinpoint cross from Marta set up Christiane for the second goal, after which Christiane celebrated with a jubilant body flip and back somersault. Christiane added the third goal from the penalty spot in injury time.
Australia 2, Norway 1: Kyah Simon scored twice in Leverkusen to put Australia into the quarterfinals. Elise Thorsnes gave Norway the lead in the 56th minute, but Simon tied it a minute later. Her powerful header from Kim Carroll's cross then won it in the 87th.
North Korea 0, Colombia 0: The draw in Bochum ensured neither team scored a goal in the tournament. Both teams were already eliminated after having lost their opening games to the United States and Sweden.