US knocked out of Women’s World Cup after penalty shootout loss to Sweden

CNN  — 

The US’ participation in the Women’s World Cup is over, ending in the cruelest of defeats.

After a tense match, the sort which causes the stomach to churn, it is Sweden which progresses to the quarterfinals, stopping the two-time defending champion from achieving a historic third consecutive world title, with a thrilling penalty shootout victory in Melbourne on Sunday.

The match was decided by the video assistant referee (VAR), with referee Stéphanie Frappart – after reviewing the action – deeming that Lina Hurtig’s penalty had crossed the line despite the US’ Alyssa Naeher getting her hands to the ball and initially appearing to save it.

Sweden’s players joyously celebrated winning 5-4 on penalties, while there were tears from the US squad as its participation ended in the round-of-16, the earliest the US has ever departed a Women’s World Cup.

“So proud of the team, of the women on the field,” coach Vlatko Andonovski said afterwards. “I know we were criticized for the way we played and for different moments in the group stage. I think we came out today and showed what we’re all about, showed the grit, the resilience, the fight, the bravery.”

With the score goalless after 120 minutes of play – 90 minutes of regulation time and 30 minutes of extra-time – the match had to be decided by penalty kicks.

Sweden’s Nathalie Björn was the first player to miss from the spot, giving Megan Rapinoe, who has now played her last major tournament for her country, the chance to put the US ahead in the shootout, yet Rapinoe – usually the most reliable of penalty takers – missed to give Sweden hope again.

Rebecka Blomqvist of Sweden and the US’ Sophia Smith proceeded to also miss from the spot. With the scores tied at 4-4, up stepped substitute Kelley O’Hara for the US and her effort hit the crossbar, presenting Hurtig with the chance to win it for her team.

Changing of the guard

The closer a team gets to achieving history, the bigger the expectations become, the more microscopic the focus on its every travail. The burden of becoming the first to win three successive World Cups ultimately proved too heavy, though there is some solace in defeat as this was the US’ best performance of the tournament.

The US has never before failed to reach the semifinals of a World Cup, so this will be a chastening experience for a country that has for decades been a standard-bearer in women’s soccer.

Four years ago, when it won its second successive title, the US was the dominant side of its generation, but times have changed and the sport has moved on.

Much has been written about the American squad’s struggles in this tournament. There was just one victory in the group stage and a goalpost came to the team’s rescue against Portugal, preventing the Portuguese from scoring a late winner which would’ve ended the US participation in this tournament.