US coach Andonovski says holders 'lucky' to still be in World Cup

AFP , Saturday 5 Aug 2023

United States coach Vlatko Andonovski admitted the underfire title-holders were lucky to still be in the Women's World Cup, ahead of a last-16 clash with Sweden on Sunday.

Vlatko Andonovski
USA coach Vlatko Andonovski answers a question during a press conference in Melbourne (AFP)

The showdown in Melbourne will pit the two top-ranked sides left in the tournament after world number two Germany's shock early exit.

It will be a huge test of the resolve of the most successful team in women's football history after copping criticism for their lacklustre performances so far.

The world number ones only stumbled out of their group in second place with just one win -- against Vietnam -- and nervy draws with the Netherlands and Portugal.

In contrast, third-ranked Sweden won all three games with clean sheets in the last two.

"The fact we are in, we are lucky, but we are moving on," said Andonovski after they scraped through to the knockout rounds with a 0-0 draw against debutants Portugal.

"Now we will do everything possible so that same situation doesn't happen again. We are doing everything we can to provide success and meet the expectations for everyone."

While admitting they had been below par as they go in search of an unprecedented third title in a row, Andonovski said it was unfair to doubt his players' commitment.

"For someone to question the standards, the mentality, the mindset of this team, after everything they do, I don't think it is the right time for that," he said.

'And I don't think it is the right thing as well. I'm happy with where they are at, happy with how they hold themselves accountable and keep raising standards."

US women's team great Carli Lloyd, now working as a television pundit, has labelled Andonovski's side "lacklustre", "uninspiring" and suggested they look arrogant.

The US will be forced into at least one change from the team which hung on against Portugal, with Rose Lavelle suspended after collecting her second yellow card of the tournament.

Savannah DeMelo started the first two games in midfield and will be hoping for a recall.

- 'History means nothing' -

Sweden and the US have met six times before at World Cups, but never in the knockout stages.

The USA won their last World Cup encounter 2-0 in 2019 on their way to the title, but Sweden were 3-0 winners when they last met at the Tokyo Olympics.

Coach Peter Gerhardsson said history will mean nothing when they meet again and is confident the underperforming champions can be beaten.

"It's not something I look at, historical facts, I'm rooted in the present," he said.

"There are a lot of new players in both line-ups so history is less important.

"It (Olympics) was two years ago, it's all about the physical and mental shape we are in now," he added.

"I have great confidence in the squad. We believe in this, believe we can win."

After securing qualification with a game to spare, Sweden rested key players, including strikers Fridolina Rolfo and Stina Blackstenius, for their 2-0 cruise against Argentina.

Gerhardsson is likely to revert to a team similar to that which started the first two games, against South Africa and Italy.

But long-time captain Caroline Seger, playing in her last World Cup, is set to be on the bench with a calf injury.

Otherwise Gerhardsson has a fit squad with the biggest decision whether Jennifer Falk or Zecira Musovic will be in goal, with the pair splitting the duties so far.

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