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United States Women’s National Team en route to Sweden for tune-up tournament

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Practice is paramount ahead of the Olympics. The U.S. will face old foes Sweden on June 16 and Japan on June 18 at an international friendly tournament in Sweden. All the vitals herein.

Who’s on the plane

The 22 players selected for the Olympics are on board, along with three of the four alternates (goalkeeper Jill Loyden, defender/midfielder Meghan Klingenberg, and midfielder Lori Lindsey).

Striker Christen Press is currently based in Sweden. The Stanford alum plays for Gothenburg in the Swedish top-flight and is the league’s second-leading goal-scorer. She might be able to give her teammates a guided tour of the surroundings as the USWNT will play its matches in Halmstad, approximately an hour and a half away from Press’ HQ.

Why it matters

With under two months to go before the commencement of the Olympics, matches against top opponents typically offer up a lesson or two. The team has amassed an 11-1-1 record so far this year. Despite the imposing record, wobbly defending, unkempt midfield play, and chronically poor first halves are worth nitpicking over. These two matches should serve as an up-to-date progress report.

Pia Sundhage made some minor tactical modifications in the team’s last match against China. Several players are also still auditioning for starting roles. The next few weeks in Sweden could go a long way in determining the line-up set to return to the world stage this summer.

Scouting the competition

Next to France (who will be the USWNT’s first group stage opponents this summer), Sweden and Japan are likely the two most intriguing opponents imaginable for the USWNT. Dating back to July of 2011, the U.S. has lost two matches and drawn four (that includes the ill-fated World Cup final, which technically ended in a tie). Either Japan or Sweden were the opponents in five of those six matches.

Japan are becoming the USWNT’s bogey team. Both the lone draw and lone loss the USWNT suffered this year came at the hands of Japan. Reigning Ballon d’Or winner Homare Sawa battled vertigo throughout the spring, but has recently begun playing full matches for her club team. The U.S. will have another chance to get one back against the world champions and their well-regarded style of play.

Sweden have proven to be tricky opponents for the U.S. as of late. In the last five meetings between the sides, the USWNT has claimed just one victory. The U.S.’s final World Cup group match against the Swedes was memorable for all the wrong reasons.  Horrific defending cost the U.S. the result, and consequently, the top spot in Group C. Of course, the subsequent quarterfinal match against Brazil worked out a lot better for the Americans.

This won’t quite be the same Sweden the U.S. has grown accustomed to, however. Ace center back Charlotte Rohlin and outside midfielder Therese Sjögran have each recently suffered serious injuries. Their presence in Thomas Dennerby’s side will be sorely missed.

The USWNT’s comfort level on foreign soil

This will be the team’s first trip to Pia Sundhage’s motherland since July 2008. The team faced the host nation that day and came away with a 1-0 win courtesy of a Carli Lloyd goal. The U.S. has a solid record on Swedish soil. The team has played seven matches in the Scandinavian nation dating back to 1995. All but one match has ended in a victory for the USWNT.

The team has led something of a jet-setting life in 2012. The USWNT’s Swedish expedition follows Olympic Qualifying in Vancouver, the annual Algarve Cup tournament in Portugal, and a three-team tournament in Japan. Save for a loss at the Algarve Cup and a draw in Japan, the team has logged many miles with its wins. We’ll see if that remains the case come mid-June.

West Ham United 2-1 Liverpool: Ogbonna strikes after 120 minutes

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09:  Jordon Ibe of Liverpool takes on Pedro Mba Obiang of West Ham United during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
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Angelo Ogbonna is now an FA Cup hero.

Two sides willing to move the ball and attack produced a fine FA Cup tie on Tuesday at the Boleyn Ground, with Ogbonna heading home the match-winner in the 121st minute of play for a 2-1 win.

Michail Antonio scored a first-half goal for West Ham before Philippe Coutinho equalized for the visiting Reds.

[ WATCH: Coutinho’s cheeky free kick ties the score ]

All told, West Ham heads to Ewood Park for a fifth-round date with Blackburn Rovers. Peterborough United hosts West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday to sort out the fourth round’s other replay.

Liverpool played a more second-string set than the home side.

Brilliance met brilliance in the 38th minute, as Dimitri Payet struck a gorgeous dipping free kick over the wall only to see Mignolet get the slightest touch to help the ball crank off the goal post. Cheikhou Kouyate failed to scissor kick the rebound, and Mignolet flew back into the picture to parry Antonio’s header.

Antonio would get his glory next, as Enner Valencia took Payet’s pass and dribbled through the left side of the 18 and toward the end line before crossing the ball. Antonio let the ball sink to hip height before volleying home. 1-0, 45′.

There were three goal posts struck in the first half.

[ MORE: American takeover at Everton update

[ MORE: Recapping Week 25 in the PL ]

Coutinho scored on a clever free kick from the edge of the 18, betting on the wall jumping and cheekily rolling his shot under it and past Hammers keeper Darren Randolph.

Christian Benteke started and nearly finished a 56th minute chance inside the box, but his shot was blocked.

West Ham should’ve been awarded a penalty when Tiago Ilori pulled down Valencia in the box. Roger East didn’t see it that way.

[ MORE: Chelsea’s Courtois says FA Cup or UEFA Champions League final a must ]

The match went to extra time after eight minutes of second-half stoppage time.

Mignolet made a solid flying stop on Mark Noble in the first frame of extra time. At the other end, Benteke struck a low chance wide of the right post. Moments later, Randolph came out to thwart Benteke on a breakaway.

If anyone needed a reminder of Daniel Sturridge‘s skill, the late sub let fly with a 108th minute bullet that missed the goal by inches.

Then Lucas Leiva gave up a free kick just as two minutes of extra time stoppage began, and Ogbonna struck.

LINEUPS

West Ham United: Randolph, O’Brien (Moses, 83′), Reid (Collins, 64′), Ogbonna, Cresswell, Kouyate (Carroll, 76′), Noble, Obiang, Antonio, Valencia, Payet.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Flanagan, Stewart, Tiago Ilori, Smith, Teixeira (Origi, 60′), Lucas, Chirivella (Milner, 102′), Ibe, Benteke, Coutinho (Sturridge, 60′).

WATCH: Liverpool’s Coutinho bewitches West Ham with cheeky free kick

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 09: Philippe Coutinho of Liverpool scores from a free-kick during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round Replay match between West Ham United and Liverpool at Boleyn Ground on February 9, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images
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Philippe Coutinho has some gumption.

Liverpool’s Brazilian wizard tied things up with West Ham United in Tuesday’s FA Cup replay at the Boleyn Ground, and did it in style.

[ MORE: Courtois says FA Cup or Champions League final a must ]

With a free kick from just outside the 18, Coutinho thought West Ham would expect he’d hit a ball that would get up quick before dipping after the wall.

They’d jump, he figured, and he’d roll it under the wall. He was correct (video courtesy Fox Soccer):

USWNT’s Solo says Zika fears could make her skip the Olympics

Hope Solo attends the premiere of "He Named Me Malala" at The Ziegfeld Theatre on Thursday, Sept. 24, 2015, in New York. (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)
Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
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As it stands, Hope Solo would skip the Olympics if fears over the Zika virus don’t subside in Brazil.

It’s been speculated that Zika increases the odds of certain birth defects, and Solo said playing in the Olympics is not worth risking future pregnancies.

[ MORE: American takeover at Everton update

With CONCACAF Olympic Qualifying heading to NBC Live Extra at 8:30 p.m. ET Wednesday against Costa Rica (All games of the tournament will be streamed on Live Extra), Solo is set to star between the sticks for the USWNT.

But in an interview with Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl, the 34-year-old netminder is far from ready to commit to the tournament.

She went as far as to say she wouldn’t go if the tournament was today, elaborating in this story from SI.com:

“I would never take the risk of having an unhealthy child,” said Solo, 34. “I don’t know when that day will come for Jerramy and me, but I personally reserve my right to have a healthy baby. No athlete competing in Rio should be faced with this dilemma. Female professional athletes already face many different considerations and have to make choices that male professional athletes don’t.”

Brazilian officials claim there will be minimal risk by the Summer Games because of the change in season, but that won’t alleviate all the concerns of female athletes. It will certainly be interesting to monitor how the situation develops in the coming months.

Chelsea’s Courtois says FA Cup or Champions League final a must

Thibaut Courtois, Chelsea FC
Brian Westerholt/AP Images for International Champions Cup
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Chelsea goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois is used to big matches, whether at Stamford Bridge, with the Belgian national team or during his loan to Atletico Madrid.

[ SPORTSWORLD: Courtois “standing tall” at Chelsea ]

If he doesn’t get one or two of those contests by the end of this season, a bad season will become an utter failure.

Courtois says it’s a long way to the Top Four, but Chelsea hasn’t given up on that hope. Regardless, he’s targeting wins over Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain in the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League, respectively.

From ChelseaFC.com:

“After that we play in the Champions League and FA Cup against two great sides and we have to try to win those games because the only way to save our season is to reach the final in one or both of them.”

Chelsea’s star has fallen this year, but this is still largely the team that won the Premier League last season. Courtois’ goals are not unreasonable.