BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) The top-ranked team in the world will likely be the undercard in women’s Olympic soccer on Friday.
The United States, the three-time defending champions, will take on Sweden in Brasilia. But the late game in Belo Horizonte between Australia and host Brazil may be the more intriguing match.
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The Aussies and Brazilians met at the Women’s World Cup last year, and it was Australia that advanced by beating Marta and Co. 1-0 in the round of 16.
As Olympic hosts this time, Brazil is getting a boost from its soccer-loving public. Although women’s soccer does not enjoy the popularity that the sport has in the United States, for instance, the Brazilians drew a sellout crowd to their last match, a scoreless draw against South Africa in the Amazon city of Manaus.
Fans, as usual, shouted “Marta! Marta!” for the five-time FIFA World Player of the year.
The Brazilians are ranked No. 8 in the world and went 2-0-1 to finish at the top of their group. The fifth-ranked Australians went 1-1-1 to finish third in their group but still managed to make it into the quarterfinals.
Like in Manaus, the fans are expected to pack in to the Mineirao Stadium, with 60,000 expected for the match.
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Before the Brazilians take the field, however, the United States will be facing old rival Sweden.
The Americans won their first two matches in Brazil before a surprising 2-2 draw against Colombia, which had already been eliminated.
That hasn’t put a damper on the team’s expectations.
“I think we’re feeling good. You know, I wouldn’t want a perfect journey to the top,” U.S. co-captain Carli Lloyd said. “I think everyone just needs to take a deep breath and relax. We tied against Colombia but it’s all good. It will motivate us even more.”
The match reunites the United States with former coach Pia Sundhage, who led the Americans to gold at both the Beijing and London Olympics. Sweden, ranked sixth, struggled in the group stage with a 5-1 loss to host Brazil and finished 1-1-1.
“We’re going to play the best team in the world, Olympic champions and the World Cup champions, and that is challenging and inspiring,” Sundhage said Thursday. “All the pressure is on the Americans.
“We’re not playing well in the attack, but we’ve done some good things defending, and if you can put those things together, we have a chance to win.”
10th-ranked Canada won all of its group matches – including a pair against top-five teams – but drew a tough quarterfinal opponent in No. 3 France. They will meet in Sao Paulo.
The Canadians, who won the bronze medal in London, have been paced by Janine Beckie’s three goals.
“This is a Canadian team that’s very gritty, that’s got a good spirit. And at this point, they’re not overconfident,” Canada coach John Herdman told The Canadian Press. “There’s a quiet confidence about them.”
Second-ranked Germany, which was upset in the group final by Canada, faces No. 12 China in Salvador. The Germans are playing in their final tournament under coach Silvia Neid.
The Olympic soccer tournament is being held across Brazil, with the gold medal match set for Aug. 19 in Rio de Janeiro.