The Matildas' path to Women's World Cup glory has seemingly become a little easier after the USA went crashing out at the hands of Sweden on Sunday night. The two-time defending champions suffered their earliest exit from a Women's World Cup ever after Sweden prevailed 5-4 on penalties in extraordinary scenes in the round of 16.
Goalkeeper Zecira Musovic was the hero for Sweden, keeping scores locked at 0-0 with a series of incredible saves. Sweden were outplayed by the tournament favourites for two hours, but the Americans couldn't land the killer blow and the match went to penalties.
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In remarkable scenes, Lina Hurtig scored a sudden-death winner with Sweden's seventh spot kick, but only after the intervention of VAR. Hurtig's low shot floated upwards after being blocked by US keeper Alyssa Naeher, who then swatted the ball away and it was initially ruled not to have crossed the line.
THE 3-PEAT IS OVER! SWEDEN WIN ON PENALTIES! 🎆🎆🎆
Controversy at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium as the reigning FIFA Women's World Cup winners are OUT! 🤯🤯🤯 pic.twitter.com/2GCaITrGNO
— 7Sport (@7Sport) August 6, 2023
But that decision was overruled after a brief review from VAR, with goal-line technology showing the ball had crossed the line by mere millimetres, sparking wild scenes of celebration as the Swedish players rejoiced. The Americans were cruelled by three misses in the shootout (including one by legend Megan Rapinoe) and a crucial shot off the post by Kelley O'Hara before Hurtig's winner.
— RTÉ Soccer (@RTEsoccer) August 6, 2023
— The Athletic | Football (@TheAthleticFC) August 6, 2023
It marks the first time the US have been beaten before the semi-final stage of a World Cup, while Sweden advance to face Japan in a quarter-final in Auckland on Friday. "We know what we are capable of," Musovic said.
"We knew that we were facing a really good team and needed to put in a good performance, which we did. I'm extremely proud of the girls and what we managed to do tonight because many people out there didn't think that was possible."
The Americans dominated possession and had 22 shots at goal, including 11 on target. But Vlatko Andonovski's team couldn't find a way past the inspired Musovic.
"I'm very proud of them and devastated for them that we have to go out the way that we did," Andonovski said. "I thought we deserved a lot more. We deserved to win this game. We created enough to win this game.
"We put up a fight, a battle, we represented this country proudly and showed what we stand for. We did everything right."
Matildas' path to World Cup glory a little easier?
Andonovski and his top-ranked side had come under intense scrutiny after some lacklustre performances in the group stage. They were blasted by US legend Carli Lloyd after dancing and celebrating a 0-0 draw with Portugal that saw them advance to the round of 16.
"Now is the time for criticism," Andonovski told reporters after their loss on Sunday night. "We heard about criticism in the group stage, which was crazy for us."
Referring to Lloyd, he said: "For someone to say how much they love this team and this country and all the players, and then instead of encouraging them, they're criticising them. Now is the time for criticism and now you can say whatever you want."
Andonovski, who took over as US coach in 2019, was evasive when pressed on his future in the role. "Right now, all I think about is the players," he said. "I see the players in tears and it hurts. That's all I can think about."
Matildas fans were quick to celebrate the demise of the US, which means the Aussies won't have to go through the two-time defending champions to win the World Cup. The Matildas take on Denmark in the round of 16 on Monday night.
— Simon Mitchell (@_SimonMitchell) August 6, 2023
The absolutely unhinged drama in penalties will probably overshadow a lot of that game but my god Zećira Mušović was nearly superhuman for #SWE tonight. They could’ve easily lost 3 or 4 nil and now they’re moving on. She didn’t even touch the ball in the pens. #fifawwc
— Mark Gottlieb (@MarkGottlieb) August 6, 2023
That has got to be the closest goal line technology decision I have ever seen in my life.
Football is a game of inches and on this occasion, a game of millimetres. Completely insane. #SWEUSA #FIFAWWC pic.twitter.com/wgvN0nhxCf
— Tom Williams (@TomWilliamsPol) August 6, 2023
Still can’t believe / can believe the #USWNT is out of the #FIFAWWC
Can’t believe that USA is knocked out after outplaying Sweden and also only giving up 2 shots on goal in 4 games.
Can believe that this wasn’t the year. Group stage was terrible and too many inconsistencies.
— Melissa Ortiz (@MelissaMOrtiz) August 6, 2023
— Reel-Steve 💙 🇬🇧🇺🇦🏴 (@reelresin) August 6, 2023
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