The United States surrendered its own little slice of history Wednesday and put its hopes of winning the Women's World Cup in serious jeopardy.
Until its 2-1 loss to Sweden in the final Group C game in Wolfsburg, Germany, the USA was the only team never to have lost a World Cup group match, compiling a 15-0-2 record.
That all changed on a frustrating night that pitched the side into a nightmarish quarterfinal matchup against archrival Brazil instead of a considerably easier opponent in Australia.
Nothing much went right against Sweden, with a penalty kick and a deflected goal in the first half putting the Americans behind 2-0. The response after the break resulted in a goal by Abby Wambach, but the tenacious Swedes, who had claimed before kickoff they would have no fear of their touted opponents, played well down the stretch to hold on.
"Today was one of those days," said Wambach, whose goal – courtesy of a fortunate deflection off her shoulder – was her first of the tournament. "They put away the chances they had and we didn't. But we can learn from this result and we still have a great opportunity."
Wambach cannot be faulted for holding such a positive point of view, but the reality is that the outlook is somewhat bleak for coach Pia Sundhage's side. No team wants to face Brazil, complete with Marta, the best female player on the planet, any earlier than absolutely necessary.
Memories of the 2007 semifinal, when Brazil destroyed the USA 4-0, are still fresh, although the result was reversed when the Americans won a tense Olympic Games gold medal game in 2008 by a single goal.
Regardless, a drastic upturn in performance will be needed if the USA is to stand any chance. Sweden might have celebrated like it had just won the tournament, but perhaps this was not such a big shock after all.
No longer does the USA have a huge advantage when it comes to technique, physicality and tactical nous. On Wednesday they were outthought, outbattled and outworked, looking nothing like the uber-confident American teams of yesteryear.
Sweden's first goal came after 14 minutes, when Lisa Dahlkvist converted from the penalty spot after Amy LePeilbet brought down Lotta Schelin in the area.
LePeilbet also had an unlucky role in Sweden's second, when she unwittingly deflected Nilla Fischer's free-kick past Hope Solo and into the net.
Wambach gave the USA a glimmer of hope when she knocked home a Lauren Cheney corner on 67 minutes, but it was too little, too late. Sweden could have extended its lead only to have a late goal incorrectly ruled out for offside.
Sundhage has seen adversity before, having suffered a defeat in the USA's opening game before the Beijing Olympics.
"It is a different road," Sundhage said.
A different road indeed, and one guarded by an immediate and giant roadblock. The USA can still win the World Cup, but it is going to have to do it the hard way.
- Abby Wambach