WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Have we not met somewhere before? Indeed, the U.S. women's national team and its Swedish counterpart have, 34 times to be exact.
But none of that will matter Friday when the two longtime adversaries meet again, especially with former U.S. coach Pia Sundhage now patrolling the Sweden sideline. And Sundhage's cutting remarks about certain members of the U.S. team have added an edge to what was thought to be competitive but friendly reunion.
What's on the line?
After defeating Australia 3-1 in its opener, the U.S. can clinch passage to the second round with a win. That could earn U.S. coach Jill Ellis the right to play some reserves in the group finale against Nigeria. There is even an outside possibility that the Americans could clinch the group if they win and Australia and Nigeria play to a draw.
As for Sweden, its World Cup hasn't begun in the manner it hoped. It twice blew leads against Nigeria and was forced to settle for a 3-3 draw. A loss would put a team thought to be a shoe-in to advance to the knockout stages in danger of crashing out of the tournament.
Style and tactics
Normally, Sweden is highly organized and plays out of a 4-4-2. Thanks to its height and physicality, it is highly reliant on set pieces, as well as the individual brilliance of forward Lotta Schelin and wide midfielder Kosovare Asllani. But Asllani has been dealing with a knee injury. She was substituted at halftime of the Nigeria game and when asked at Thursday's news conference how her knee was, she would only say, "OK." Asked if she would play, she said. "We'll see." Its midfield looked plodding against Nigeria, but Ellis is expecting Sweden to press the U.S. midfield.
"Sweden is to me a very experienced team, with a strong aerial presence," she said. "They're physically strong women so we're going to have to be organized."
In the face of Australia's high-pressing tactics, the U.S. often bypassed its midfield and played very direct out of its 4-4-2. But with Sweden lacking the mobility in midfield shown by Australia, look for the U.S. to try and keep the ball on the deck a bit more, and then look to get the ball wide to attacking fullbacks Meghan Klingenberg and Ali Krieger.
Players to watch
For Sweden: Nilla Fischer, Caroline Seger, Lotta Schelin
Fischer is normally one of the more imposing center backs in the women's game but had a nightmare against Nigeria, as she was at least partly culpable on all three goals. Seger will be looking to bounce back as well and have more of an influence on Friday's game. Schelin remains one of the premier strikers in the women's game with her combination of strength and pace, but save for an assist on Linda Sembrant's goal, was very quiet against Nigeria.
For the U.S.: Becky Sauerbrunn, Lauren Holiday, Megan Rapinoe
Sauerbrunn was spot on against Australia, and the timing of her tackles was superb. She'll be one of those asked to keep Schelin in check. Holiday should have a greater influence on the game than she did against Australia given the likelihood that the U.S. will try to keep the ball on the ground. Rapinoe is off to a flying start in the tournament, and despite being listed as playing wide on the left, her creativity when she slides into central areas is a prime feature of the U.S. attack.
What we can expect
Sundhage made no secret about her dissatisfaction with the performance of her midfield against Nigeria. It's unclear at the moment what she'll do with her personnel given that Lisa Dahlkvist was pulled out of the game and Asllani's aforementioned injury. Regardless, Sweden assistant Lilie Persson indicated that part of the problem against Nigeria was that the midfield was too spread out and that Sweden will be much more compact in this match. Seger has vowed to deliver a better performance as well.
"I think it's mainly up to myself because I have to move, and I have to demand the ball," she said.
Defensive dead-ball situations continue to be a worry for the U.S. as Australia's goal came off a reset set piece. Sweden's prowess in this area means the Americans will have to be especially vigilant.
Sweden was tormented by Nigeria's pace, so look for the U.S. to try and get the likes of Sydney Leroux and Christen Press isolated against Sweden's backline. Alex Morgan played for 11 minutes against Australia, so expect her to be on the field for an even longer stretch in this match.
Given the physicality of Sweden's midfield, Carli Lloyd and Holiday will need a repeat of the defensive effort that keyed the Americans' second-half improvement against Australia.
Sundhage's comments regarding the U.S. players such as Abby Wambach, Lloyd, and Hope Solo no doubt ended up on the bulletin board. And they could very well end up backfiring given the mentality the Americans possess.
There will be no secrets on either side. While Sundhage knows the American team well due to her time as coach, the U.S. coaching staff is equally aware of her. U.S. assistant Tony Gustavsson's experience coaching at club level in Sweden should also ensure that the U.S. team is tactically well prepared.
Which team will win?
Sundhage's comments ensure that the U.S. will be highly motivated. Look for the U.S. to prevail 2-1.