Penalty loss cruelly confirms USA’s worst ever World Cup finish in history

The stakes were incredibly high for the USA going into their round 16 showdown against Sweden. Their tournament would be defined by this game. So would Andonovski’s future– a defeat would almost certainly result in his dismissal as the head coach of the USWNT. A loss would also result in the United States’ earliest World Cup exit in history. There was a lot riding on this.

Andonovski made two changes to the XI that started the game against Portugal in an attempt to find a winning formula. Despite hinting during Saturday’s press conference that Ashley Sanchez would be drafted in to replace the suspended Rose Lavelle, it was actually Emily Sonnet who got the nod over her teammate. Lavelle has been one of the few positives for the USA at this tournament- her energy, directness and creativity would be a big miss.Trinity Rodman was also brought in for Lynn Williams

Despite major criticism over Andonovski’s tactics and formation choice going into the match, the Macedonian American coach once again ‘stuck to his principles’. And just like in their previous encounters at this tournament, the same issues persisted- albeit mostly in the earlier minutes of the encounter.

In possession, the team seemed to adopt a 3-2-5 formation as they looked to overload the opposition defense with a numerical advantage– a signature Andonovski move that hasn’t worked at this tournament so far. Several long balls from Ertz or Girma were sent into the box with little to no effect

Good but not great

But after a cagey initial fifteen minutes, the team started to find their rhythm. They were most dangerous when playing the ball on the floor and into the feet of the wide players. With their pace, athleticism and quick feet, Sophia Smith and Trinity Rodman were particularly threatening when driving with the ball at opposition defenders. The latter had two decent chances parried by Swedish goalkeeper Zecira Musovic. Smith was also lively, and if a goal was going to come, it looked more than likely that it would be through one of those two players.

Despite all the talk of Sweden being such a dangerous side in the air, it was Andonovski’s team that went closest from a set piece. Captain Lindsey Horan had the best chance of the half after her bullet header– a carbon copy of the one she scored in match two against the Netherlands- rattled the crossbar in minute 33

There was definite an improvement on the previous displays from the USA during the first half. In the final quarter of an hour, they had 78% possession, but they needed to do something with it. They were good- certainly in the ascendency- but not great.

Outstanding goalkeeping the difference between the two sides

The team’s momentum and intensity continued into the second half. Horan, once again, led from the front. In the 54th minute, Sweden keeper Zecira Musovic produced out one of the saves of the tournament, somehow getting a hand to Horan’s curling shot on the edge of the box. The US players couldn’t believe what they had seen. Just a few minutes after, Horan fired another powerful effort just wide of the post and punched the ground in frustration. The US were getting closer, and Sweden had no response to the threats they were posing

Andonovski then looked to the bench in search of the opening goal with 25 minutes to go. Despite Lynn Williams adding more attacking firepower, the lack of cutting edge in the final third continued to be a problem for the US.

After fluffing a chance in the 86th minute with her weaker foot, Alex Morgan managed to get her head on a beautifully weighted cross, only to be denied by another world class Musovic save. She seemed destined not to score. It just hasn’t been her tournament.

There was nothing separate the two sides by the end of the game. Extra time awaited.

Nerves creeping in

After going close again early in extra time, Alex Morgan was withdrawn– her quest for a goal at the World Cup would have to wait. Could the USA’s hero from 2019 inspire her teammates?

Rapinoe’s introduction did indeed seem to rally the team – just seconds after she came on, Lynn Williams made a darting run into the box and her low right-footed shot once again forced a brilliant save out of Musovic. The rebound so nearly fell to Rapinoe who, had she been in a better position, would have had a simple tap in

With the US on top, Sweden’s objective was clear: hold out for the draw and let penalties decide the game. Their game plan was rigid, but even more so in extra time. They constantly had eleven players behind the ball. It was frustrating to watch and even more so for the US team who just couldn’t make their dominance count.

Penalties were looming. The nerves were clear to see- both on the pitch and in the stands. The tension was palpable.

Penalties decide the outcome

Sullivan stepped up to take the first penalty and smashed it into the bottom corner. Unstoppable. But what ensued was one of the most dramatic penalty shoot-outs this competition has ever seen. Rapinoe sent her effort over the bar. Sophia Smith sent hers wide of the right-hand post. Four-time World Cup winner Kelly O’Hara hit the post. Misses that would prove decisive

Lina Hurtig scored the winning penalty. After Alyssa Naeher initially saved the shot, it spun awkwardly back towards the goal mouth. The stadium held its breath, and after a minute of deliberation, the effort was eventually ruled to have crossed the line. Sweden had won it 5-4.

It was a terribly cruel way to go out. A true rollercoaster. On the night, the US probably deserved more. But, judged on their performances over the course of the tournament, the result was probably a fair one. It’s the worst World Cup finish in team’s history

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