US goalkeeper Hope Solo has launched an extraordinary attack on Sweden, labelling them "cowards" after their stunning upset of the Americans on penalties in the quarterfinals.

The 4-3 shootout defeat ended the women's football world champions' bid for a fourth consecutive gold medal after the two teams were locked at 1-1 in Brasilia on Friday.

After the match, Solo praised her teammates for playing a "courageous game" but slammed the Swedes in the same breath.

"I also think we played a bunch of cowards," she said. "The best team did not win today. I strongly believe that. I think you saw American heart. You saw us give everything we had today.

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"(Why Sweden "cowards"?) Sweden dropped off. They didn't want to open play. They didn't want to pass the ball. They didnt' want to play great soccer. It was a combative game, a physical game.

"Exactly what they wanted and exactly what their game plan was. They dropped into a 50. They didn't try and press. They didn't want to open the game. And they tried to counter with long balls."

Solo then said she didn't think "they're going to make it far in the tournament. I think it was very cowardly, but they won. They're moving on and we're going home."

Sweden will now face either hosts Brazil, who thrashed them 5-1 in the group stages, or Australia in Tuesday's semi-final in Rio.

The defeat is the Americans' first in 15 games at the Olympics and only their third ever in Games history having won four golds and a silver since women's football was introduced to the Olympic program.

Star striker Alex Morgan and substitute Christen Press missed penalties before Lisa Dahlkvist converted the winning spot-kick for a Sweden side coached by Pia Sundhage, who led the USA to gold in 2008 and 2012.

Morgan looked to have saved America's blushes when she swooped 13 minutes from the end of normal time to cancel out Stina Blackstenius's opener just after the hour mark.

But the world's number one ranked side failed to break down Sundhage's well-organised Swedes in extra-time, who also had a perfectly good goal from Lotta Schelin wrongly ruled out for off-side in the final minutes.

Controversial US keeper Hope Solo, pursued by chants of "Zika" by Brazilian fans earlier in the tournament for her extravagant posts on social media about the virus, desperately tried to put Dahlkvist off by delaying the final spot kick by changing her gloves.

However, it was to no avail as Dahlkvist coolly converted to take Sweden into their first ever Olympic Games semi-final.