Portugal's Ana Capeta nearly scored in stoppage time but her shot hit the right post and the United States escaped with a uninspiring 0-0 draw Tuesday night that got them through — just barely — to the knockout round.
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The scoreless tie, combined with the Netherlands' dismantling of Vietnam, put the USWNT in second place after their final Group E match at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand, on Tuesday.
“We should have put some in the back of the net and we didn't. We own that,” Alex Morgan said. “We're not happy with the performance we put out there. But at the same time, we're moving on.”
Portugal, who is playing in their first World Cup, came inches from upsetting the top-ranked United States, with four titles.
“I truly believed that the goal would be in that moment and I was starting to think, `What can I do to help my players if we're winning 1-0?'" Portugal's coach Francisco Neto said. “What I said to the girls, I was very proud. Of course, they are very sad because we have huge expectations of ourselves.”
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Through the opening 45 minutes, the U.S. were by far outplayed by a hungrier Portuguese side that deployed fresher legs after manager Francisco Neto rotated the squad for its match against Vietnam.
The lack of a coherent gameplan was also evident. As soon as the U.S. broke out in transition or regained possession in any part of the field, no one knew where to pass to next and Portugal's press effectively won the ball back.
Lindsey Horan and Morgan, the USWNT captains, combined for an early chance in the second half, but the team was once again kept out of the net. Morgan had another chance in the 84th minute before shooting right into Portuguese goalkeeper Ines Pereira.
The Americans brought out Megan Rapinoe as a sub for Smith in the 61st minute, but the 2019 Golden Boot winner couldn't get the ball behind the goal line.
As for Portugal, it was an impressive showing to cap off its first-ever Women's World Cup appearance. The team placed third in Group E and finished just one point behind the USWNT.
This marks just the second ever time the USWNT did not place first in a Women's World Cup group stage and the first time it only won one game in group play. The only group runner-ups to win the tournament was Japan in 2011, who had done so by beating the U.S. in the final via a penalty shootout.
Despite moving on, U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski's squad will have plenty to work on ahead of the Round of 16 based on Tuesday's play.
Next up for the USWNT is a Round of 16 match against the Group G winner at 5 a.m. ET/2 a.m. PT on Sunday, Aug. 6. Sweden currently leads the group with six points and has a +10 goal differential over second-place Italy. Sweden will face Argentina and Italy will battle South Africa in the final Group G contests on Wednesday.