Auckland, New Zealand – Holders the United States squeezed into the last 16 of the Women’s World Cup on Tuesday with a nervy 0-0 draw against Portugal but England and the Netherlands powered through with big wins.
The United States came to Australia and New Zealand as favourites – ahead of European champions England – to win an unprecedented third World Cup in a row.
But they have been nothing like the team that has dominated international women’s football for so long and they will need to be a lot better if they are to go much further at the tournament.
Debutants Portugal came within inches of the win they needed to progress – and dump out the Americans – when substitute Ana Capeta hit the post in injury time in front of almost 41,000 in Auckland.
But the US held on and are likely to face a Sweden team in the last 16 who thrashed Italy 5-0 in their last match.
US coach Vlatko Andonovski attempted to put a positive spin on what was an alarmingly poor performance by the team ranked number one in the FIFA rankings.
“The most important thing was to get the job done,” he said.
“This is a fairly new team that have not been together for a long time.
“The more time they spend together the more chances will go in.”
The Netherlands, who drew 1-1 with the US last week in a rerun of the 2019 final, racked up the biggest win of this World Cup with a 7-0 demolition of already eliminated Vietnam.
Esmee Brugts and Jill Roord both scored twice for the Dutch, who topped Group E with seven points. The US were second with one win and two draws – they have never before won just one group game.
England punish China
In Group D, England overran China 6-1 to sail through as group winners and set up a meeting with Nigeria in the last 16.
Denmark join them from the group after defeating Haiti 2-0 and will face co-hosts Australia.
Chelsea star Lauren James got a brace for England and was at the centre of everything that was good about Sarina Wiegman’s team.
She called it “what dreams are made of”.
“I felt free, whether I am on the wing or the middle I am just happy to be on the pitch. I think like last game, I thought, why not hit it and see what happens?” said James, who scored a cracker in the win over Denmark.
“Yeah (Nigeria will be) very tough, every team has been tough -– teams are catching up with each other.”
After stodgy 1-0 wins over Haiti and Denmark, England let loose, albeit against limited opposition in Asian champions China.
“I am very delighted. What I said before the game, we are going to do things a bit different. It shows how adaptable this team is. I think today it worked really well, players felt comfortable,” said Wiegman.
“I don’t think they expected us to play this way and they didn’t find a solution.”
On Wednesday, Brazil will need to beat Jamaica to guarantee their place in the knockout rounds. Jamaica only need a point.
Football legend Marta was moved to tears as the Brazilian reflected on her career and legacy on the eve of what could be her final World Cup appearance.
The 37-year-old Marta – nicknamed “Pele in a skirt” by the late football great – has already said this will be her last World Cup.
She is the all-time leading goal-scorer in World Cups, men’s or women’s, and if she adds to her tally of 17 she will be the first footballer in history to score at six World Cups.
“You know what’s good? When I started there were no idols in women’s football,” she told reporters on the eve of the match, tears filling her eyes.
“How could there be if you didn’t show women’s football? How could I understand that I would reach the national team and become a reference point?”
Also on Wednesday in the same Group F, France face Panama with a point enough to go through.
In Group G, already qualified Sweden play Argentina and South Africa face Italy.
The Italians will qualify – and set up a date with the Dutch – with victory, while a draw could also be enough.