(MELBOURNE, Australia) — The United States was knocked out of the World Cup by Sweden, in a match that pitted the reigning champions against a hard-charging team on a winning streak.
The game closed out 120 minutes of regulation play without a goal, despite the U.S. squad having several close calls. The even match-up continued into the nerve-wracking penalty kicks, which themselves went into sudden death.
The odds leaned back and forth during the kicks, with both Sweden’s Nathalie Björn and the U.S. star Megan Rapinoe missing their shots, which started a string of four-straight missed kicks. After Sweden’s Rebecka Blomqvist shot was saved, U.S.’s Sophia Smith missed her shot.
In the end, the ball crossed over the line after U.S. goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher blocked Lina Hurtig’s shot. Because she couldn’t save it again, the game was over. The final score was 5-4.
The U.S. squad were the favorites entering the tournament, having won the last two World Cups, held in 2019 and 2015. They were also top of the pile in 1999 and 1991.
But their footwork in the group stage didn’t equate to many goals, or victories. They handily beat Vietnam in a 3-0 match, but their matches against the Netherlands and Portugal both ended in draws.
They exited the group round with five points, trailing the Netherlands by two. This was the first time in Women’s World Cup history that the U.S. earned fewer than six points during the group stage.
Sunday’s match was the United States’ fourth-ever World Cup game to enter extra time, with all three prior going all the way to penalties.
Swedish goalkeeper Zecira Musovic made a few big saves, including stopping a strong charge by Alex Morgan in the final moment of regulation play.
The first half of play had been controlled by the U.S. team, which monopolized possession and had at least two shots on goal to Sweden’s zero. But the score was nil-nil at the midway point.
By midway through the second half, Sweden began to apply more pressure, with possession evening out. They put together a few set pieces that were closer to success than they’d had previously, but they still struggled to finish.
The U.S. squad wasn’t on its back foot, however, as they were still getting more chances on goal than their rivals, with two more shots on target.
Sweden’s first shot on goal came in the 85th minute.
Rapinoe, the star U.S. midfielder, entered the game in the eighth minute of extra time, with the scoreboard still blank. She was a member of previous World Cup-winning squads and this tournament is expected to be her last as a player.
Sweden, which was ranked third in the tournament, was the runner up in 2003, their top placement since the initial 1991 tournament.
They topped their group with nine points after handily trouncing Argentina, Italy and South Africa. Only two other teams, England and Japan, left the group round undefeated.
The United States and Sweden have played each other in every Women’s World Cup since 2003.
“It wouldn’t be a major tournament if we weren’t facing Sweden,” said Lindsey Horan, the U.S. captain.
The Round of 16 match began at 7 p.m. local time, or 5 a.m. ET, at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.
Sweden now faces Japan in the quarterfinals.
Copyright © 2023, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.