May 24, 2024

USWNT Portugal World Cup Tie Leaves Americans Facing Nightmare Matchup

  • The US Women’s National Team finished the World Cup group stage with a scoreless draw vs Portugal.
  • The reigning champs will advance to the knockout round as the second-place finishers in their group.
  • The USWNT is now likely to face a fearsome foe — Sweden — in a win-or-go-home match Sunday.

The US Women’s National Team is through to the knockout stage of the 2023 World Cup.

But just barely.

The reigning champions — who are looking for an unprecedented third-consecutive World Cup victory — stumbled to a scoreless draw against Portugal on Tuesday to narrowly advance in this summer’s tournament Down Under. The Stars and Stripes finished second in their group behind the Netherlands, who used a 6-0 rout against Vietnam Tuesday to take Group E’s top spot on goal differential.

Now, after coming within literal inches of elimination, the USWNT is all but certain to face a nightmarish matchup in its win-or-go-home game on Sunday.

Megan Rapinoe (left) and Alex Morgan react during the USWNT's game against Portugal.

Megan Rapinoe (left) and Alex Morgan react during the USWNT’s World Cup game against Portugal.

Carmen Mandato/USSF/Getty Images

Sweden — a team with a remarkable history of upsetting women’s soccer’s longtime frontrunners — is likely awaiting Vlatko Andonovski’s side in the Round of 16. FIFA’s third-ranked team is already guaranteed to advance out of Group G, and barring what would be a shocking loss to Argentina on Wednesday, captain Caroline Seger and company will emerge at the top of the group and secure yet another blockbuster matchup against the USWNT.

The USWNT and Sweden have a storied history of playing contentious, high-stakes games on the world stage

The US has faced Sweden nine times in world championship tournaments, per US Soccer, with Sunday’s probable rematch marking the seventh World Cup meeting between the two giants of the sport. And while Blågult — or The Blue and Yellow — have yet to take down the Americans in soccer’s most prestigious tournament, recent showings indicate that they’re poised to break through this time around.

In 2016, a Sweden squad outfitted with many of the same players competing in Australia and New Zealand shocked the world by outlasting the United States in penalty kicks and booting the top dogs from the Rio Olympics. The loss marked the USWNT’s earliest exit from a major international tournament and left the reigning three-time Olympic champions without a medal for the first time ever.

Swedish players celebrate after winning in penalty kicks and knocking the USWNT out of the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Swedish players celebrate after winning in penalty kicks and knocking the USWNT out of the 2016 Rio Olympics.

Steve Bardens-FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

Five years later, at the postponed Tokyo Olympics, the Swedes once again dealt The Stars and Stripes a staggering blow. The two star-studded squads faced off in their opening match of the tournament as co-frontrunners of Group G, but it was Sweden — not the reigning World Cup champions — who emerged as a dominant force after 90 minutes.

The top European side earned a decisive 3-0 victory over the US thanks in large part to Stina Blackstenius — the very same striker who helped spur the Americans’ meltdown in Rio half a decade prior. The loss in Tokyo brought the USWNT’s 44-game unbeaten streak to a screeching halt and left the team with a relatively disappointing bronze medal.

Still, the US boasts a considerable advantage over Sweden in World Cup play. The Stars and Stripes faced Sweden in each tournament since 2003 — with all meetings coming in the group stage — and have yet to drop a single game. Aside from a scoreless draw at the 2015 World Cup, the US has come out on top in every World Cup match it’s played against Sweden.

USWNT players celebrate as Lindsey Horan scores the opening goal of the US' 2-0 victory over Sweden in the 2019 World Cup.

USWNT players celebrate as Lindsey Horan scores the opening goal of the US’ 2-0 victory over Sweden in the 2019 World Cup.

AP Photo/Christophe Ena

Sunday’s match could flip the script on the US-Sweden rivalry

The Scandinavian nation is not just looking for a breakthrough against the US, but also in World Cup tournaments broadly. Sweden has never made its way to a World Cup final, but if the reigning champs fall out of contention, Peter Gerhardsson’s team could very well climb its way to the top.

The US, meanwhile, risks suffering the earliest World Cup exit in program history. The four-time champions have never finished below the top-three in the tournament, and have advanced to the title game in all but three World Cup appearances.

Now, they’ll likely have to fend off a Swedish side that won each of its group stage matches and earned a statement 5-0 rout over Italy. And the USWNT will have to do it without Rose Lavelle, its star midfielder who earned two yellow cards in the group stage and now must sit out of the Round of 16.

If the US-Sweden matchup comes to fruition as expected, fans stateside can tune into FOX watch the action unfold Sunday at 5 a.m. ET (7 p.m. local time).

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