WINNIPEG, Manitoba - On the eve of the U.S.-Sweden confrontation that will go a long way in determining both team's Group D fates, Sweden coach Pia Sundhage tried to clarify some comments that she made about three top American players.
A day after the former U.S. coach placed captain Abby Wambach, goalkeeper Hope Solo and midfielder Carli Lloyd in a critical light in a New York Times story, Sundhage claimed her comments had to be put into context.
Sundhage told The Times that Lloyd needed reassurance so she could play at the top of her game and not play poorly, Solo was one of the most challenging players she has coached and that she would use Wambach as a sub if she was still USA coach.
The Americans (1-0-0, 3 points) can clinch a spot in the knockout round with a win Friday night, while the Swedes (0-0-1), after a disappointing 3-3 draw with Nigeria, need to respond strongly.
"The reason I'm sitting here it's because of the U.S. team. They made me look good," Sundhage said Thursday in a news conference. "Three finals and Carli Lloyd scores the winning goal in the Olympics both times."
Sundhage said Lloyd was one of her favorite players.
"Carli Lloyd is a player who is sometimes smarter than I am," she said. "Sometimes she thought about [her role] and had some questions about it. She didn't do what she was supposed to do. She was a team player. I would say one of the most important players I ever had. Some of those players are very challenging and those players create gold."
Wambach, 35, has slowed down after battering her body while scoring a world-record 182 international goals.
"She's special in many ways, especially with her heading," Sundhage said. "She could go another four years. I would make sure that Abby would last forever and ever. You have players starting the game and you have players who end the game and Abby is a player that will make the difference. I will have that back in my pocket. Throw her in and I will win the game."
But in an abrupt about-face, Sundhage added that she would start Wambach against Sweden "because she's that good."
As is Solo.
"She's a piece of work and that's good as well," Sundhage said. "Things happen around her. Sometimes outside the field but two times 45 minutes she is the best goalkeeper in the world."
Sundhage claimed her newspaper comments were not a tactical ploy to unnerve the USA. "I'm not that smart," he said. "I wanted to tell people how fantastic the women's game is."
Several times Sundhage praised the USA team. Did her side have a chance?
"Well, we have a chance," she said. "We need to be smart and put all the pressure to the U.S. team. I know exactly what we can do and [are] able to do. Now we need to find that atmosphere. We're going to do our very best."