USWNT coach issues warning ahead of crucial Portugal clash at World Cup

Auckland, New Zealand - The USWNT may need a big win against Portugal at the Women's World Cup on Tuesday to top Group E, but coach Vlatko Andonovski has warned his team to focus on simply securing their place in the last 16.

USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski wants his team to focus squarely on qualifying for the World Cup last 16 ahead of their clash with Portugal.
USWNT coach Vlatko Andonovski wants his team to focus squarely on qualifying for the World Cup last 16 ahead of their clash with Portugal.  © REUTERS

The holders and favorites to win an unprecedented third consecutive World Cup have not yet hit peak form, beating debutants Vietnam 3-0 in their opening game at the tournament and then drawing 1-1 with the Netherlands in a repeat of the 2019 final.

Level on four points with the Dutch at the top of their group, a big win for the Netherlands against a weak Vietnam could relegate the US to second place.

But the priority for the record four-time world champions is to avoid defeat against tournament debutants Portugal, who has three points, and prevent a shock first-round exit.

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"The most important thing obviously is getting in the knockout stage first and foremost and that is our main focus right now," Andonovski said at Eden Park in Auckland on Monday.

"We don't want to look two, three or four steps forward. If we start thinking too far ahead, our chance may never come."

Rose Lavelle ready for more minutes

US midfielder Rose Lavelle is returning to full fitness after making her first appearance at the 2023 World Cup against the Netherlands.
US midfielder Rose Lavelle is returning to full fitness after making her first appearance at the 2023 World Cup against the Netherlands.  © REUTERS

The US coach also hinted that Rose Lavelle could have a greater role to play after appearing as a substitute against the Netherlands.

Lavelle, who was struggling for fitness before the World Cup, replaced Savannah DeMelo at half-time against the Dutch with her team trailing, and duly set up the equalizer for captain Lindsey Horan.

"Rose is one of the best players in the world and not having her for the full 90 minutes in the first two games obviously impacted the team because coming into this World Cup she was pencilled in as a starter a long time ago," Andonovski said.

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"She makes things happen on the field. We are very happy that her minutes have been increasing and we are looking forward to seeing more of her on the field."

Portugal eyes shock win

Andonovski knows all about Portugal's threat as he is a friend of coach Francisco Neto.

"Francisco is a great guy and we have a great relationship. We have spent a lot of time together, I think he is an incredible coach, but business is business," Andonovski said.

Portugal is ranked 21st in the world and a win would not just send the Europeans through to the last 16 – it would send shockwaves through the sport.

Cover photo: REUTERS

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