Fans of the United States women’s soccer team who woke up at the crack of dawn to watch its match against Sweden had a disappointing morning. After a scoreless game and two 15-minute periods of extra time, the reigning US squad lost to Sweden in Melbourne on Sunday morning in a dramatic 5-4 penalty shootout. The early elimination in round 16 marks the US team’s worst World Cup performance and a heartbreaking farewell to Megan Rapinoe, who is retiring after her fourth and final tournament.
The two-time defending champions failed to present their best soccer throughout the competition. They finished the group stage in second place to face Sweden, the third best ranked team in the world. The Swedes had won all the Group G matches and will now take on Japan, who beat Norway 3-1, for the semifinals. Spain also moved on after a decisive 5-1 win against Switzerland and the Netherlands eliminated South Africa. This World Cup has been marked by the surprising eliminations of favorites, including Brazil and Germany.
The Sunday match, the longest in women’s World Cup history, marked the seventh World Cup encounter between the longtime rivals, but the first in the knockout rounds. The US squad dominated in terms of ball possession and had more opportunities to score but found an impenetrable wall in the Swedish goalkeeper Zecira Musovic, who may have just played the match of her life with at least 11 saves. During the penalty shootout, veterans Rapinoe and Kelley O’Hara missed their kicks, as did forward Sophia Smith.
“First and foremost I’m so proud of the team,” co-captain Lindsey Horan said after the game. “A lot went into this performance and it was kind of changing gears and playing like us, and playing our style, being confident, patient, all those things. We went out and did it. I think we played beautiful football today and we entertained and we created chances. We didn’t score. And this is part of the game.” Her co-captain Alex Morgan said she was devastated and compared the post-defeat feeling to “a bad dream.” Defender Julie Ertz said she was proud of the way the team played, adding that this was likely her last appearance with the squad. “It’s an honor to represent this team,” she told a reporter, “and I’m excited for the future of these girls.”