Familiar foes: US, Netherlands ready for quarterfinal clash
On to the rematch.
The United States plays the Netherlands on Friday in the quarterfinals of the Olympic women's soccer tournament — bringing together the two teams that played in the World Cup final two years ago in France.
The U.S. women won that one 2-0 and afterward the crowd chanted “Equal Pay!” in support of the team's legal fight for equity with the men's national team.
This time, there won't be any crowds and the case is before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals back home in the United States, with no ruling expected in the near future. And obviously there's greater weight on a World Cup final than an Olympic quarterfinal.
But the game in Yokohama has taken on significance because the normally indomitable Americans showed vulnerabilities in the group stage: Notably a 3-0 loss to Sweden in the Olympic opener.
After a 6-1 rebound win over New Zealand, the U.S. played to a scoreless draw against Australia, which, while uncharacteristic for the offensively dominant Americans, got the team through to the knockout stage.
The United States hadn't been shutout since 2017 before this Olympics, and now the team has been blanked twice in less than two weeks.
“I think a lot of people understand that we’re here to compete and win a gold medal and however we get there, winning is the most important thing. So, yes, fans and outsiders looking in are probably like, ’Oh, this is so different.' You’ve never seen the U.S. do this,” defender Crystal Dunn said.
“But at the same time, it’s about executing a game plan, moving on from one round to another. And whatever tactics, plans that we have that we’re given, it’s our job as players to trust and believe in ourselves and each other and live to fight another day.”
Instead, it's the Netherlands that has become a high-scoring juggernaut. The Dutch scored 21 goals in the group stage — smashing the previous record of 16 set by the United States in 2012.
Dutch striker Vivianne Miedema has an Olympic-record eight goals, and that's only from the group stage.
Miedema, who plays professionally for Arsenal, is just 25 and already the all-time scoring leader for the Netherlands with 81 goals in 99 appearances. She is also the top career scorer in the Women's Super League in England.
The United States has played the Netherlands since the World Cup final, winning by an identical 2-0 scoreline in Breda last November. The Americans were undefeated in 44 straight matches before the loss to Sweden.
“We have an understanding of what they like to do as a team, and their style of play. However, that was a friendly game and we understand that we are in knockout rounds and everything can be completely different," Dunn said Thursday.
"It’s about focusing on our game plan and what we’re trying to do because we can’t get caught up in thinking about ‘Oh, we played them before, so therefore, this is exactly what this game is going to be like.’ That is nearly impossible to do in the knockout round."
In the other quarterfinal matches on Friday:
CANADA v. BRAZIL, Rifu: Another rematch, but this time of the third-place game at the Rio de Janeiro Games. Canada was triumphant in that one for the team’s second straight Olympic bronze medal, spoiling Brazil’s shot to medal on home soil.
There are many of the same faces in Japan. On Canada's side, there's Christine Sinclair, soccer's all time international scorer among men and women. Brazil has Marta, the six-time FIFA Player of the Year.
Brazil is now playing under coach Pia Sundhage, who led the U.S. women to the gold medal in London in 2012. Canada's coach in Brazil, John Herdman, now coaches the nation's men team.
BRITAIN v. AUSTRALIA, Kashima: The Australians advanced to the knockout round as one of the top third-place teams after the group stage. This is the Matildas' fifth trip to the Olympics and third time they've made it through to the quarterfinals.
Britain finished atop Group E. In a quirky rule, Britain's Olympic teams must include Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland, and all four teams must be in agreement to participate. For that reason, the only other Olympics that has included a Team GB is London 2012.
SWEDEN v. JAPAN, Saitama: The Swedes won all three of their games in Group G to advance, including that 3-0 victory over the Americans in their opener. Sweden famously knocked the United States out of the 2016 Games in the quarterfinals. The team went on to the final, but lost the gold medal to Germany.
Japan, as hosts, made the quarterfinals as one of the top third-place finishers. The Nadeshiko won the silver medal at the London Games, but did not make the field in 2016.
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