WINNIPEG, Manitoba – On the eve of the match against her former team, Sweden coach Pia Sundhage addressed Hope Solo, Abby Wambach and the challenge of beating the talent-laden United States in the World Cup.
About the only thing she didn’t do was break into song.
During her five-year tenure with the U.S. national team, Sundhage was known for her vocal stylings: She famously warbled “Feelin’ Groovy” during a press conference at the 2011 World Cup in Germany.
For this year’s World Cup in Canada, she was more pragmatic approaching the highly anticipated showdown Friday night between No. 5 Sweden and the second-ranked United States. The stakes got higher for the Swedish women following their 3-all tie with Nigeria in the group-stage opener.
“The reason I’m sitting here is because of the U.S. team. They taught me how to deal with the pressure,” Sundhage said Thursday. “You can imagine: We got one point against Nigeria, we’re going to play the best team in the world. … It’s my job to make sure we try to do our very best.”
Adding to the buildup was a story about Sundhage in The New York Times that caused a stir this week. The interview was done in April, she said, acknowledging she can sometimes be provocative. “If I just gave you the same answer it would be boring,” she said.
Sundhage was quoted as saying that midfielder Carli Lloyd was a challenge to coach and she suggested she wouldn’t start Wambach at this point in the popular veteran’s career. She said Solo was one of the most challenging players she’d coached, “especially when it comes to trouble.”
On Thursday, she called Solo “a piece of work,” but went on to also call her the “the best goalkeeper in the world.” She also said she would start Wambach on Friday.
The U.S. won two Olympic golds and went to the World Cup final in Germany during Sundhage’s tenure with the team. It was the first time the Americans had gone to the final since winning the title in 1999.
She left after the 2012 London Games and returned home to coach her native Sweden’s national team. As a player she led Sweden to a third-place finish in the first Women’s World Cup in 1991, and the team’s first European championship in 1984.
She remains tremendously popular with the U.S. women who played under her.
“She has a really unique coaching style,” said midfielder Tobin Heath. “She really brings the best out in players because she’s so positive and encouraging. She really gives you that freedom to express yourself. I think a lot of players learned that under Pia and have taken that into this new step in our journey.”
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