There was very little doubt who the gold medal favorites were in women’s soccer entering the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. The United States may have been showing signs of faltering recently, but there was never any real reason to doubt an experienced squad who had not lost a game in over two years.
Meanwhile, Sweden entered the tournament with the fifth best odds in most sportsbooks. However, it did not take long for that notion to go out the window because Sweden showed up in Tokyo looking to dethrone the world champions.
The Swedish team felt like they should have ended the Americans’ unbeaten streak back in April when a late (and soft) penalty was awarded, allowing Megan Rapinoe to cancel out Lina Hurtig’s first-half goal to finish the friendly in a draw. Since then, the team had been counting down the days until its next shot and they were going to make sure this one counted.
Sweden made sure to leave no room for a comeback when the two teams met to open the group stage last week. And it was Hurtig, coming off a strong debut season with Juventus Women, who got to seal the deal with a simple but perfect header into the back of the net just eight minutes after coming as a substitute.
Hurtig knew the cross was coming in after Hanna Glas created plenty of space for herself on the right wing. Hurtig did a great job of creating space between herself and Manchester City’s Abby Dahlkemper by faking a run to the near post before fading back into the space between the two defenders, setting up an easy header and giving Sweden a 3-0 lead to make a statement to the rest of the world on who may be the new favorites in the tournament.
That was just one game, though, and as impressive as Sweden were against the top-ranked team in the world, it needed to continue to prove itself. And Blågult did just that.
Three days after the emotional victory over the USWNT, it was Australia who was standing in the way with the top spot in the group on the line. The Matildas took a 2-1 lead early in the second half but just before coming off, it was once again Hurtig who gave Sweden a boost and swung the momentum for the rest of the night.
Hurtig, who got the start in the second match, got to show off her speed a little bit more for her second goal of the tournament but it was still about her ability to move into space without the ball as she did in limited minutes against the United States. Many Juventus fans may have seen her more with the ball at her feet on the wing with the likes of Cristiana Girelli or Andrea Stašková taking up space in the middle of the field, but Hurtig has always been a versatile player — and now she’s gotten to prove it on an international stage.
In the final game of the group stage, Hurtig was once again brought off the bench and was at the center of many chances in the final half an hour against New Zealand, forcing two saves and nearly recording her first assist with a great feed to Kosovare Asllani. She could not keep her scoring streak alive but Sweden still recorded the 2-0 victory as it finished off a perfect group stage, the lone team in the tournament to do so.
Hurtig still has not played a full 90 minutes in the tournament, and it is not clear what attacking line is truly manager Peter Gerhardsson’s favorite to use. What is clear is that Hurtig is one of the top options off the bench even if she is not in the starting lineup and she has the opportunity to provide a big offensive spark if Sweden are ever desperate for a goal.
In an average tournament, Hurtig may be in line to compete for the Golden Boot, especially if Sweden can get three more matches under its belt. However, with the ridiculous tally of goals scored already, it’s unlikely she will be catching any of the top scorers. She still can hang her hat on being the tournament’s lone player with multiple goals while playing less than 120 minutes.
Hurtig and Sweden will hit the field again Friday to take on host Japan in the quarterfinals, set for 6 a.m. ET. Japan finished third in its group but all three of its games were a bit cagey with only four total goals scored.
Hurtig and the rest of Sweden’s attack may have it’s work cut out for itself but they are still the favorites to advance to the semifinals where either a rematch with Australia or a matchup with Great Britain would await next Monday. Sweden would not have to face the United States again until either the gold or bronze medal match.