USWNT survive huge scare against Portugal to reach World Cup last 16
Auckland, New Zealand - The USWNT survived a huge scare to reach the last 16 of the Women's World Cup on Tuesday after a 0-0 draw against Portugal, which was unlucky not to claim a sensational win at Eden Park that would have taken it through instead.
The US struggled to impose itself against opponents ranked 21st in the world and appearing at their first World Cup, and Portugal almost won the game in injury time when substitute Ana Capeta hit the post.
Holding on for the draw means Vlatko Andonovski's side finish in second place in Group E.
The Netherlands go through as group winners after a 7-0 demolition of a Vietnam side who were beaten just 3-0 by the Americans in their first match at the tournament.
That means the pre-tournament favorites will move to Australia to play a last-16 tie on Sunday against the winners of Group G, in all likelihood Olympic silver medalists Sweden.
Nothing about their performance here in front of almost 41,000 in Auckland, or in their two previous matches at the tournament, suggests the US will find it easy going against a side who finished third at the last World Cup.
It is just the second time in Women's World Cup history that the USWNT has failed to top its group, although on the last occasion, in 2011, it reached the final before losing on penalties to Japan.
USWNT struggle with Portugal's intensity and aggression
The US had never before won just one group game, and the regression from four years ago in France is striking.
That time they won all three matches in the first phase, rattling in 18 goals without reply.
Andonovski has insisted a youthful new team will need time to find its feet, but an urgent step-up will be required if they are not to be eliminated early in the knockout phase.
The coach made two changes from the 1-1 draw with the Netherlands, with Rose Lavelle rewarded for her game-changing role off the bench in that game with a first start at the tournament.
Savannah DeMelo made way for her, while Lynn Williams was brought in on the right wing as Trinity Rodman dropped out.
Portugal had to win to go through but played as if there was no pressure at all, with Andreia Norton shooting over early on and the lively Jessica Silva dragging a shot wide from a good position soon after.
The Europeans had more of the possession, higher intensity and aggression, and delivered a heart-stopping moment in the first minute of injury time when Capeta, who had just come on, smashed a shot off the upright.
Starting a World Cup match for the first time, Williams found the going tough but did have her team's best chances in the opening half, including a snap-shot in stoppage time that was saved by goalkeeper Ines Pereira.
Veteran Megan Rapinoe came on during the second half, but made little impact in a match that raised plenty of questions ahead of the knockout stage.
Cover photo: Saeed KHAN / AFP