Women’s World Cup: U.S. Settles for Draw With Portugal, Knowing It Could Have Been Worse

For greater than a era, america girls’s nationwide crew has performed out a few of its finest moments on the world’s greatest levels, in entrance of the most important crowds in girls’s soccer. World Cup finals. Olympic gold medal video games. The crew has, through the years, received a lot of these video games, an extended line of days to recollect.

On Tuesday, although, on a cold night time within the depths of the New Zealand winter, the People virtually endured a day they’d by no means have the ability to neglect.

The ending didn’t, ultimately, go fully incorrect: The US gamers held on desperately to protect a 0-0 tie with Portugal, a end result that delivered them, safely however scared out of their wits, to the knockout rounds of the Girls’s World Cup.

That should do after a sport wherein america did not create sufficient scoring possibilities, wasted those it did after which flirted with disaster as a Portuguese shot hit the put up and caromed out in second-half harm time.

The close to miss was maybe symbolic of an evening that certified as the identical, of a sport wherein america, a four-time winner of the World Cup, got here inside inches of a surprising — and, for them, unprecedented — group-stage exit.

Far to the south in Dunedin, the Netherlands had received the groups’ group by thrashing Vietnam, 7-0, in a sport performed concurrently to america’ dance with catastrophe at Eden Park in Auckland. That lopsided end result was relegating the People to second place within the group even because the groups performed, however provided that they didn’t lose to Portugal. Within the second half, survival had turn out to be the primary U.S. precedence.

Jill Roord scored the seventh aim for the Netherlands in a romp previous Vietnam.Credit score…Molly Darlington/Reuters

The crew had created possibilities, however not practically sufficient and none of them significantly harmful. As the sport went on, and the stakes rose, they stored coming, after which going: pictures despatched excessive, or extensive, or straight on the goalkeeper.

“This team gave everything,” U.S. ahead Alex Morgan mentioned. “We just didn’t put the ball in the net.”

An post-mortem of all that went incorrect for america can come later. Disconnected passes. Defensive failures. Substitutes despatched on too late, or in no way.

Morgan dismissed the end result as “unlucky,” which can be partially true. However the U.S. was additionally phenomenally fortunate when the Portugal substitute Ana Capeta slipped behind its again line early in second-half harm time and pinged a shot off the correct put up.

By then the People had already shifted into security mode, inserting a fifth defender as they tried to protect what they might. The clock wound down, after which ran out, and the aid on the U.S. facet was palpable.

“The most important thing,” U.S. Coach Vlatko Andonovski mentioned, “is we got the job done.”

Afterward, he gathered his crew in a large circle on the sphere and spoke to the gamers briefly. However solely after the veteran defender Kelley O’Hara had been allowed to have her say first. She supplied a quick however impassioned deal with, punctuated by hand gestures and steely-eyed stares into her teammates’ eyes.

“I just told them, ‘Listen, guys, we did what we had to do,’” O’Hara mentioned. “‘This game’s done. Group stage is done. We advanced.’” She, like a number of of her different teammates, appeared to know that low bar won’t be adequate transferring ahead.

The U.S. crew will doubtless get Sweden within the spherical of 16.Credit score…David Rowland/Reuters

Others had been much less forgiving. On tv, the previous nationwide crew participant Carli Lloyd excoriated her former crew, and her former teammates, for his or her play, their preparations and their dedication, but in addition for what she noticed as their temerity in taking postgame selfies with followers and dancing after treading so near a humiliating exit. “The player of the match,” she said acidly, “was that post.”

Others famous the end result had not are available in isolation, and was the most recent in an extended string of just-good-enough scores over the previous few months. The People had struggled to impose themselves on groups like Eire and Wales earlier than the World Cup; they did not dominate Vietnam of their opener; they usually had been outplayed for a half earlier than rallying for a tie towards the Netherlands. In opposition to Portugal, they practically bottomed out.

Requested if he felt his crew had deserved to win at Eden Park, Portugal’s coach, Francisco Neto, replied unequivocally. “What do you think?” he requested rhetorically. “Of course, yes.”

“Unfortunately we didn’t win,” he added, “and we go home.”

As a substitute it’s the People who’re by to the spherical of 16 — prone to a tough sport towards Sweden, one of many world’s finest groups and a title contender in its personal proper, on Sunday in Melbourne. After Tuesday night time, that certified as reward sufficient for the U.S. crew.

Its gamers could also be blissful to go away Auckland behind for just a few days after their slender escape. They are going to be thrilled in the event that they get an opportunity to return deeper within the event.

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