For the first time since the tournament began in 1991, the United States women’s national team will not make it past the round of 16 at the World Cup. The USWNT took on longtime rival Sweden on Sunday morning in Australia, and despite playing perhaps their best game of the tournament, the Americans weren’t able to find a goal in 120 minutes of action.
The big problem for the United States was the performance of Swedish goalkeeper Zecira Musovic, who stood on her head during regulation and extra time to keep things level at 0-0. While the Americans were the better side, Musovic saved all 11 shots that she faced, including a handful of reaction saves that made it seem like it would not be the USWNT’s day.
Despite this, the U.S. kept coming, getting closer and closer as the game went on. But ultimately, despite holding an 11-1 advantage in shots on goal, they were unable to break the deadlock, which led to penalties.
Andi Sullivan, Lindsey Horan, and Kristie Mewis were perfect to start things for the United States, while Fridolina Rolfo and Elin Rubensson converted Sweden’s first two from the spot. The USWNT were given the edge, though, as Nathalie Bjorn went over the bar.
And then, disaster struck for the Americans. If only one of Megan Rapinoe or Sophia Smith made their penalties — in large part due to both of their efforts coming on either side of Alyssa Naeher stonewalling Rebecka Blomqvist — the team would still be in the tournament. But neither player was able to convert, and things moved on to sudden death after Hanna Bennison beat Naeher.
In a twist, Naeher stepped up next for the Americans and cooly converted her penalty, while Magdalena Eriksson was able to respond for Sweden. Up stepped Kelley O’Hara, and while Musovic guessed wrong, O’Hara’s effort hit the post and opened the door for the Swedes to win. While Naeher was able to get a hand to Lina Hurtig’s effort, the ball went up, spun into the goal, and made it over the line by millimeters.
There will be questions asked about the United States in the aftermath, namely with regards to the future of manager Vlatko Andonovski. But the team’s inability to win its group meant the likelihood of an early elimination went up considerably, and unfortunately for them, the worst-case scenario ended up happening, as the team finally found its form against an excellent Sweden team but were haunted by their struggles to finish chances against a goalkeeper who had the game of her life.
As for Sweden, they’ll move on to the quarterfinals to take on Japan.