Unconvincing America Held by Impressive Portugal

Unconvincing America Held by Impressive Portugal

The expectation that the United States of America will always win the Women’s World Cup has been thrown out of the window. Competitiveness has increased, particularly in 2023, but maybe also the States have… regressed?

We’re still far from making a bold proclamation like that. But with a 0-0 draw with Portugal to round out the group stage and finish in second with five points, a first for the Stars and Stripes has come: until now, they’d never only won just a single game in the group stage. It hasn’t been a tournament where they’ve passed with flying colours, and that might be a good thing. The rest of the world is catching up quickly. Portugal is a debutant of this tournament, and, for at least 45 minutes, looked to be the better side.

The Portuguese slowed down in the second half, and just couldn’t seem to bring the ball with them and advance quickly. Before that, though, they were quick and confident, exploiting everything the USA gave them. A stretched backline provided plenty of holes to pass through, and Francisca Nazareth, Diana Silva, and Jessica Silva all took advantage of it to find each other. What changed throughout the match is the way that Portugal went forward. They stopped trying to find the through ball and started looking to build up in the USA’s half. It was combated by the USA looking a lot more compact and in a rigid shape, adding plenty of pressure to try and win the ball back in midfield.

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Of course, Portugal could never find a goal. Ana Capeta was painstakingly close in stoppage time, but the post prevented pandemonium in Auckland/Tāmaki Makaurau. There were chances, particularly going through Jessica Silva. USA fullback Crystal Dunn had work set out for her. She did manage to stop a lot of passes and win most one-on-ones, finishing with three interceptions, two tackles, one clearance, and winning four out of six duels, according to SofaScore. She also managed two successful dribbles and wasn’t a fixture of attack like some fullbacks tend to be, but rather an important piece in the build-up. She was able to move into midfield a lot in the latter stages of the match but was forced to be pegged back for a few stretches when Portugal looked most dangerous.

For Jessica Silva and Portugal, it was a case of always being on the verge, but never putting it all together. They did come close. A couple of shots weren’t hit right. In the end, it didn’t look like they often put a wrong foot, they just ran into heavy traffic. When the USA didn’t let them try and counter-attack quickly by having more numbers in the back, the midfield stifled Portugal, who couldn’t get runners up fast enough. The only downside of doing this for the USA is that they left attackers stranded. Sophia Smith only got 35 touches and no shots on target. She also didn’t have a successful dribble, but this is in large part due to being defended heavily. There has to be more service to Smith, she is the USA’s best chance of scoring buckets of goals. It’ll be up to players like Andi Sullivan and Rose Lavelle to get her the ball. The relatively early substitution of Smith for Megan Rapinoe, who hasn’t garnered many minutes this tournament, was probably the right call given Smith hadn’t been up to too much, and Rapinoe did deliver some good balls going forward out wide. It’s not a bad problem to have if you’re Vlatko Adonovski in terms of picking the winger to start.


The aforementioned Lavelle had a good match, but a moment that could prove costly. Operating as a double-pivot, she made five tackles and two clearances, quite good numbers for someone who had to make some long runs to get back, but Portugal could’ve seen her as an easy target to go through. She was dribbled past once and conceded fouls four times, including a yellow card which takes her out of the picture for the round of 16. Going forward, that could be an issue. She did place a poor ball to Smith after a good transition play from America, and Smith could’ve buried the ball had it been a good pass. She did place three key passes though, and the USA will certainly miss Lavelle for all she brings.

As for that round of 16 clash, it remains to be seen who the defending back-to-back champions will play. Portugal, meanwhile, was so close to creating the biggest upset in tournament history. They won’t do this, but they should have their heads held high after a great debut in the tournament.

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