AUCKLAND, New Zealand — The United States arrived at the Women’s World Cup as the favorite to win an unprecedented third consecutive title. But after an underwhelming draw against the Netherlands, there’s a real chance the Americans could be eliminated in group play for the first time in tournament history.
The U.S. plays Portugal in the third and final match of Group E play, and if Portugal pulls off an upset Tuesday at Eden Park in Auckland, the Americans could be in big trouble.
(Match airs at midnight Pacific time on FOX Channel 12.)
The United States needs to either win or draw against Portugal, one of eight teams playing in its first World Cup, to ensure the Americans continue to play in this tournament.
“I think we feel like we have to win everything all the time,” said American star Megan Rapinoe. “That’s the expectation for ourselves. That’s the expectation playing for U.S. national team. It’s just kind of like, ‘Why would you come into the World Cup if you don’t think that you should win it, and if you don’t think that you can win it?’ ”
The United States sits atop the group after a 3-0 victory over Vietnam in the tournament opener, and a 1-1 draw with the Netherlands last Thursday in Wellington. The Dutch are tied with the U.S. on points, but the Americans have the tiebreaker on goals scored.
Portugal lost to the Dutch in its opener but then beat Vietnam 2-0. So if the Portuguese beat the United States, they’ll move on, and the Americans would then need Vietnam to beat the Dutch in Dunedin — while keeping their advantage on goal differential — to advance.
“One thing is for sure, that we have a job to do and that’s first and foremost to take care of our game, so our main focus right now it our performance, our team, and Portugal,” U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “What happens on the other side is something we can’t control. We have to stay focused on the things we can control.”
Portugal could use a swarming defense to try to prevent the United States from scoring the way Vietnam — unsuccessfully — played the Americans in the opener.
Portugal defender Ana Borges said her team will be prepared.
“This is the stage where we want to be. It’s against these teams that we want to play because we’re going to learn and grow from them,” Borges said. “Not saying anything about the other team, but if we weren’t prepared for this challenge, we wouldn’t be playing football.”