USA squeeze into World Cup knockout stage after surviving late Portugal scare

<span>Photograph: How Hwee Young/EPA</span>” data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/v1_hxt7nsnX9JKftw1474g–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/3a92ea6c6820539fc16e62dedf893781″ src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/v1_hxt7nsnX9JKftw1474g–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/3a92ea6c6820539fc16e62dedf893781″></img></p>
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<p><figcaption><span>Photograph: How Hwee Young/EPA</span></figcaption></p>
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<p>As Americans half a world away slept through the night unaware or rose prematurely from their slumber to watch a World Cup match with a 3am ET kick-off, the United States sleepwalked through their final group game against Portugal to do the bare minimum to advance to the knockout rounds of the 2023 World Cup. The USA, dneeding a point to secure advancement, survived a stoppage-time scare that would have made them the first defending World Cup champions to be eliminated in the group stage.</p>
<p>“I don’t think it was in sync,” the USA head coach, Vlatko Andonovski, said. “I don’t think that was a good performance all together.”</p>
<p><span>Related: </span>China v England: Women’s World Cup 2023 Group D – live</p>
<p>Elsewhere, the Netherlands scored early and often against Vietnam to render irrelevant the goal-difference tiebreaker that would have come into play had the USA beaten Portugal. The Dutch won the game, 7-0, and the group easily. The USA will play on Sunday in Melbourne against he winners of Group G – likely to be longtime nemesis Sweden. It is the first time since 2011 that the USA did not finish atop their World Cup group.</p>
<p>The USA came within inches of being eliminated in the group stage for the first time when the Portugal forward Ana Capeta hit the post in second-half stoppage time. Capeta ran in behind the defense to position herself for a clear shot. By the time the ball hit the post – and bounced toward the sideline, away from danger – most of Portugal’s bench had made the 10-yard run to the sideline to prematurely celebrate what would have been the greatest upset in Women’s World Cup history.</p>
<p>“I’ll be honest with you,” Portugal’s coach, Francisco Neto, said, “when Ana [shot], I was thinking it will be a goal, what Vlatko will do and what I have to do to stop [it]. I swear, I truly believe the goal will be at that moment.”</p>
<p>Portugal, the team Andonovski described a day earlier as “conservative” in approach, controlled the match in the first half and forced the Americans to defend from a lower position. Portugal held a greater amount of possession and made more entries into the final third than the USA in the first half, according to Fifa’s data platform. The forward Jessica Silva wreaked havoc as she drifted to the left side of the USA defense, popping up in pockets between the left -back Crystal Dunn and center-back Naomi Girma.</p>
<p>All the talk around the USA heading into the match was about how disconnected and ineffective their pressure was against the Netherlands. “We weren’t in sync,” the midfielder Andi Sullivan said of that 1-1 draw. Her teammates, and Andonovski, echoed those feelings.</p>
<p>Andonovski pointed out how much Rose Lavelle helped in the second half of that Netherlands match, and Lavelle started on Tuesday for the first time at this World Cup, but the USA looked just as out of sync.</p>
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<p>“We should have solved problems a little bit better on the field, made a little bit better decisions, been OK in our defensive shape for more than one to two seconds, and taken advantage of the opportunities that were given to us,” the forward Alex Morgan said.</p>
<p>Silva had the best opportunity of the first half on a breakaway after 16 minutes. Two central, vertical passes broke the USA’s lines and put Silva in behind, but she rushed her right-foot shot wide.</p>
<p>The USA consistently gave away the ball under little pressure in the back in the first half, and Portugal continued to knock on the door. Five minutes before half-time, Kika Nazareth unleashed a right-foot shot from distance that dipped, swerved and just missed the top corner.</p>
<p>A yellow card to Lavelle late in the first half made matters worse for the USA. The caution was her second in as many games, meaning she will be suspended for the next match</p>
<p>“I’m disappointed in myself that I picked up that yellow,” Lavelle said. “I’m disappointed I can’t help my team out on the field next game. I think there’s still a lot of ways that I can help the team off the field, so I guess that’s where my energy will be now.”</p>
<p>Lynn Williams started in place of Trinity Rodman as a further attempt to find a solution up top. Williams had one of the best opportunities of the match in the 25th minute when she had two opportunities to score from six yards after Morgan tightly danced on the endline and put the ball in a dangerous area.</p>
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United States’ Megan Rapinoe consoles Portugal’s Jessica Silva after the full-time whistle. Photograph: Rafaela Pontes/AP

The USA improved mildly in the second half but still failed to string together consistent passes. Their best chance of the half came nine minutes after the break, when Lindsey Horan played Morgan in behind and the USA forward rounded the goalkeeper but only had a tight angle to shoot. Her attempt was cleared by a retreating defender.

Needing a win to advance at their first World Cup, Portugal managed the game as if they were the two-time defending champions. Capeta hit the post only moments after entering the match. The USA had held on enough to advance and escape a brush with infamy.

“We’re not happy with the performance we put out there, but at the same time, we’re moving on,” Morgan said.

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