BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Taunted by local fans since the Olympics began and stinging from a surprising loss, Hope Solo called Sweden a “bunch of cowards.”
The U.S. goalkeeper criticized the Swedes for the way they played Friday in beating the Americans in a penalty shootout — a result that means the world’s top-ranked team will miss out on a medal in women’s soccer for the first time.
“I thought we played a courageous game,” Solo said. “I also think we played a bunch of cowards. The best team did not win today. I strongly and firmly believe that.”
The Swedes beat the U.S. 4-3 on penalties following a 1-1 draw in the quarterfinals. They will next face either Australia or host Brazil.
“It’s OK to be a coward if you win,” responded Sweden coach Pia Sundhage, the same woman who coached the United States to back-to-back Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012.
Tied after three rounds in the shootout, Sweden captain Caroline Seger shot past Solo. U.S. forward Christen Press’ attempt then went over Hedvig Lindahl’s net. And with the next kick, Lisa Dahlkvist beat an outstretched Solo for the win.
“Sweden dropped off. They didn’t want to open play,” Solo said, explaining why she criticized her opponents. “They didn’t want to pass the ball. They didn’t want to play great soccer.”
Sundhage knows the U.S. team well, having coached the Americans for five years and led them to a pair of Olympic golds.
“They played more attacking football then we did. We defended very well,” Sundhage said. “And the fact that there were only two goals and it went to penalty kicks said something about our defending. The U.S. played better in the attack, we played better in the defense.”
As Sweden celebrated, U.S. captain Carli Lloyd crouched on the field at Mane Garrincha Stadium in disbelief.
The three-time defending champion United States had been the clear favorites in Brazil to become the first team to win an Olympic gold following a Women’s World Cup title.
“It’s always hard to swallow losing in PKs. Yeah, I mean it’s going to hurt,” Lloyd said. “We’ve got to hold our heads high. This team is not going to crumble. We’re going to just work that much harder. It’s been a busy couple of years. That’s why no one has won back-to-back.”
Solo, who has endured near-constant taunts of “Zika! Zika!” for a week, has courted controversy for her comments in the past. And on Friday, she was also criticized for changing her gloves during the penalty shootout.
After a scoreless first half, Stina Blackstenius scored in the 61st minute to give Sweden a 1-0 lead. Alex Morgan netted the equalizer in the 78th and the match went to extra time.
Lloyd then had a header called back for offside in the 115th minute, and Lotta Schelin was offside on her attempt against Solo a minute later — although replays appeared to show otherwise.
The reigning World Cup champions, who are also four-time Olympic champions, had not dropped a match this year.
“Really just heartbroken right now for the girls and the federation. It’s unfortunate,” said Morgan, who missed the first penalty in the shootout. “I feel like we were prepared but so were Sweden. I felt today could go either way.”
The Americans won their first two matches in Brazil before a surprising 2-2 draw in Manaus against Colombia, which had already been eliminated.
Sweden had won only five prior matches against the United States. At last year’s World Cup, the two teams played to a scoreless draw. The last time the two teams met in the Olympics was at the 1996 Atlanta Games. Sundhage was a player on the Sweden team that fell 2-1 to the Americans.
Ranked sixth in the world, Sweden had struggled in its Olympic group with a 5-1 loss to host Brazil and finished 1-1-1.
The crowd at Mane Garrincha Stadium was sparse but continued to jeer Solo every time she touched the ball. The local fans are still upset about her posts on social media about the Zika virus. Solo posted a picture of herself in mosquito netting and armed with insect repellant.
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