The United States bought the consequence that was coming, however in a fashion that nobody may have predicted. The USA’s reign of dominance on the Women’s World Cup is over; after two consecutive titles and 4 general, they suffered their earliest-ever exit from the competitors by the hands of a well-known opponent. After victories over the USA on the earlier two Olympics, Sweden struck once more. This time it was by the best of margins, with Lina Hurtig’s successful penalty crossing the road by barely an inch, awarded by VAR amid confusion, insanity and heartbreak.
It introduced one of the crucial profitable eras in sport to a detailed. The USA set the usual and led the best way on the Women’s World Cup, however now the remainder of the world has caught up. Megan Rapinoe may solely snicker after which cry, as her penalty was blazed over the bar. Player of the match in 2019 and a winner in 2015, her closing contact at her closing World Cup in 2023 was an ignominious one. Kelley O’Hara, one other stalwart of the USA’s golden age, additionally missed at an important second, establishing Hurtig’s closing blow.
The USA will now flip to a brand new era, however this defeat will go away its mark. Sophia Smith, the following star of the USA group, missed the possibility to ship the defending champions by means of to the quarter-finals, firing excessive and broad. That may have been her second. It may additionally spell the tip for Vlatko Andonovski. The head coach confronted an arduous process in following the two-time World Cup winner Jill Ellis, however he has now resided over the USA’s worst ever marketing campaign on the match. His substitutions, or lack of them, in opposition to Sweden contributed to their undoing.
But defeat, though maybe not like this, all the time felt inevitable. It may have come even earlier. After scraping previous Portugal within the group phases, it felt as if the writing was on the wall. Yet the USA improved in opposition to Sweden. Had it not been for an impressive efficiency from goalkeeper Zecira Muscovic, then the USA might have survived lengthy sufficient to face former foes Japan within the quarter-finals. Muscovic was chic, one other goalkeeper to win participant of the match at this World Cup, but the ironic twist was Sweden received the shootout with out her needing to make a save.
A painful exit no less than affords the USA an opportunity to begin once more. How they wanted it, with a squad that appeared trapped between sending out the outdated era in a blaze of glory and bringing within the new. The downside for the USA because it makes an attempt to construct its subsequent nice group is that they’re now not the highly effective drive in ladies’s soccer. The previous 4 years has seen the gorgeous rise of the European membership sport and its league, powering England and Spain to new heights, whereas the previous two weeks on the World Cup has demonstrated how different international locations around the globe have been lifted up by advances in teaching and participant growth.
The USA are now not on the forefront of that change: the very best gamers on the earth are being born in international locations like Colombia and are being nurtured on the powerhouses in Europe. This shall be a harsh realisation, not only for the USA, however their whole soccer construction, from its home league to its youth growth. There was loads of proof at this World Cup that the USA’s subsequent line of expertise aren’t on the degree of earlier generations. The USA might have been hit by accidents forward of the match and have been definitely held again by Andonovski’s stale techniques, however none of Smith, Alyssa Thompson or Trinity Rodman lived as much as the expectations, particularly when in comparison with the younger expertise elsewhere on the World Cup.
The USA once more performed a entrance three that confirmed little cohesion, a group of straight traces that failed to attach. There was Rodman, after which Lynn Williams, charging down the appropriate wing, unable to seek out the crosses. Alex Morgan herself starved of service and confidence, struggling to seek out the area to make an impression, or the ending to make her probabilities depend. Smith represents one other disjointed fragment, who would certainly be beginning by means of the center if not for Morgan’s historical past on the World Cup.
There was little or no change from the bench: Andonovski’s aspect have been extra aggressive in midfield in opposition to Sweden, however failed to seek out an additional gear after they have been clearly on high. The downside for the USA was everybody needed to be the match-winner: Rapinoe, trying to take a thrown in shortly on the midway line after approaching in its place in further time, as an alternative launching the ball downfield to the place she ought to have been standing.
A special USA aspect, maybe of 4 years in the past, wouldn’t have allowed this to achieve its dramatic however wildly unpredictable conclusion. It’s been a superb World Cup, however this wasn’t a traditional, no less than by way of attacking plan. Instead, it was a traditional of a unique style, that of a tense and nervy knockout stage conflict.
Sweden have been passive: that they had a possibility to bother the USA, given the noise across the build-up to the fixture, however ceded management. Sweden performed for moments from set-pieces, as if feeding off scraps. The inswinging deliveries from Joanna Andersson focused USA goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher and a packed six-yard field. Naeher no less than handled the risk, punching and swinging to clear the hazard; Sweden provided little else.
For the primary time in three video games, the USA had the brighter moments: Smith struck at Muscovic after discovering area on the appropriate, with Rodman additionally in a position to create some moments of hazard when roaming inside. Lindsey Horan, goalscorer in opposition to Vietnam and the Netherlands, hit the crossbar with a header on the half-hour, the USA virtually utilizing Sweden’s power in opposition to them. Horan threatened once more within the second half, curling a first-time shot that beckoned the far nook earlier than Muscovic made a wonderful diving cease to her left.
The contest was destined for further time from as early as the primary half – it took till the eighty fifth minute for Sweden to have their first shot on the right track – however a lot of that was additionally all the way down to the excellent Muscovic. The goalkeeper saved Sweden alive along with her finest save of the match, denying Morgan’s late header when the USA striker appeared set for her second of the World Cup. Instead, after she was spurned once more by Muscovic with a snapshot, Morgan quickly departed. A joint-winner of the Golden Boot in 2019, Morgan left goalless on the World Cup in 2023.
Morgan may solely watch on at what occurred subsequent, powerless to cease what in the long run was inevitable. This was one World Cup too far, for a group that want a brand new plan.