Brazil is a step closer to gold, but Sweden comes first
RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) The Brazilians are a step away from a shot at Olympic gold, and nothing could make the host nation's fans happier.
Women's soccer has not traditionally been popular in Brazil, but Marta and her teammates have been capturing hearts as they've traveled across the country en route to a semifinal match against Sweden at the Maracana Stadium on Tuesday.
Some fans have even replaced Neymar's name on their No. 10 jerseys with Marta's.
''We are aware of the pressures,'' Brazil coach Vadao said through a translator on Monday. ''The result has to be a gold because that's a need for women's football.''
But while Brazil is a win away from the gold-medal match, the team will first have to overcome a pumped up Sweden team that knocked off the three-time defending champion United States in the quarterfinals.
The loss sent the top-ranked Americans home without a medal for the first time at the Olympics. The World Cup champions were vying for their third straight gold.
Sweden deployed a defensive strategy against the United States and won 4-3 in a penalty shootout after a 1-1 draw. Afterward, U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo drew attention for calling Sweden ''a bunch of cowards'' for its style of play.
It's a good bet that Sweden will use a similar tactic against Brazil, which defeated the Swedes 5-1 in group play. Marta and Beatriz each had two goals.
Brazil, ranked eighth in the world, finished atop Group E and went on to defeat upstart Australia in the quarterfinals, advancing 7-6 on penalties after a scoreless draw.
The Brazilians have twice won silver medals at the Olympics, where women's soccer made its debut in 1996. Both times, at the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Games, the United States won in the final.
Sweden, ranked No. 6, finished third in the group before the big win against the United States. Sweden's best finish at the games was in Athens when the team fell to Germany in the bronze-medal match.
''Now we have so much energy. The way we talk about the game tomorrow, it's a special moment,'' Sweden coach Pia Sundhage said. ''I thought it was a really special moment in the quarterfinal against the United States. And now we have another one. That is unique. In the same tournament, you have two special games. Now we have a chance to win a medal and we'll take it.''
Vadao said Brazil will be without defender Fabiana, who was stretchered off in the match against the Matildas. Veteran Cristiane, who has the most Olympic goals of all-time among women with 14, is a game-time decision with a hamstring injury.
Nearly 70,000 tickets have been sold for the match at the 78,000-seat stadium in Rio de Janeiro.
Tuesday's other semifinal match, between Canada and Germany, will be played about 275 miles to the north in Belo Horizonte. The Olympic soccer tournament has been played in cities across the country, in addition to Rio.
Canada, which won bronze four years ago, is the only team from the medal round at the London Games to return to the semifinals in Brazil. Canada defeated France in the quarterfinals, Sweden ousted the United States, and Japan (silver) didn't qualify for the tournament.
Ranked No. 10 in the world, Canada has had a brilliant run in Brazil with wins in all four of its matches - three of which came against top-five teams. One of those victories was a 2-1 upset of No. 2 Germany in its group.
Germany also made it through, however, beating China 1-0 on Friday in Salvador. Melanie Behringer scored the only goal for the reigning European champions.