Holders the United States squeezed into the last 16 of the Women’s World Cup on Tuesday with a nervy 0-0 draw against Portugal but England and the Netherlands powered through with big wins.
The United States came to Australia and New Zealand as favourites – ahead of European champions England – to win an unprecedented third World Cup in a row.
But they have been nothing like the team that has dominated international women’s football for so long and they will need to be a lot better if they are to go much further at the tournament.
Debutants Portugal came within inches of the win they needed to progress – and dump out the Americans – when substitute Ana Capeta hit the post in injury time in front of almost 41,000 in Auckland.
But the US held on and are likely to face a Sweden team in the last 16 who thrashed Italy 5-0 in their last match.
US coach Vlatko Andonovski attempted to put a positive spin on what was an alarmingly poor performance by the team ranked number one in the FIFA rankings.
“The most important thing was to get the job done,” he said.
“This is a fairly new team that have not been together for a long time.
“The more time they spend together the more chances will go in.”
Nothing about their performance here in front of almost 41,000 in Auckland, or in their two previous matches, suggests the United States will find it easy against a side who finished third at the last World Cup.
“We are not happy with the performance we put out there but at the same time we are moving on,” said Alex Morgan.
“This is not the first time in my career that we have moved on in second in the group.
“Now it is about coming back together, knowing that we have the pieces to go all the way, but putting all that together.”
In fact, it is just the second time in Women’s World Cup history that the USA have failed to top their group, although on the last occasion, in 2011, they reached the final before losing on penalties to Japan.
Portugal had to win to go through but played as if there was no pressure on them at all, with Andreia Norton shooting over early on and the lively Jessica Silva dragging a shot wide from a good position soon after.
They had more of the possession, and the much-fancied Americans struggled to match the intensity or aggression of a Portugal team who had beaten Vietnam 2-0 last time out.
The US started better in the second half but Andonovski was alarmed enough to call for Megan Rapinoe, the veteran replacing Sophia Smith just after the hour.
There was more panic in the US defence in the first minute of injury time when Capeta, who had just come on, smashed a shot off the upright as the holders grimly held on.
The Netherlands, who drew 1-1 with the US last week in a rerun of the 2019 final, racked up the biggest win of this World Cup with a 7-0 demolition of already eliminated Vietnam.
Group E finished with the Dutch top of the group with seven points. The US were second with one win and two draws – they have never before won just one group game.
World Cup debutants Vietnam were under pressure from the opening minute and the Dutch chalked up 42 shots on goal over the 90 minutes.
They scored their first four goals against already eliminated Vietnam inside the opening 23 minutes, the pick of which saw Brugts hit the top corner.
With half-time approaching, Vietnamese goalkeeper Thi Kim Thanh Tran put in a superb save to deny Roord, but midfielder Danielle van de Donk was on hand to slot home the rebound to make it 5-0 at the break.
Tran was replaced in the Vietnam goal by Thi Hang Khong for the second half, while 17-year-old Wieke Kaptein came on to make her third appearance for the Dutch.
Brugts scored again, from outside the area, when she fired into the opposite corner with a fierce strike that gave Khong no chance.
Martens had a goal ruled offside by the VAR before Roord, who had also clattered the woodwork, headed in the seventh goal with seven minutes left.
England punish China
In Group D, England overran China 6-1 to sail through as group winners and set up a meeting with Nigeria in the last 16.
Denmark join them from the group after defeating Haiti 2-0 and will face co-hosts Australia.
Chelsea star Lauren James got a brace for England and was at the centre of everything that was good about Sarina Wiegman’s team.
She called it “what dreams are made of”.
“I felt free, whether I am on the wing or the middle I am just happy to be on the pitch. I think like last game, I thought, why not hit it and see what happens?” said James, who scored a cracker in the win over Denmark.
“Yeah (Nigeria will be) very tough, every team has been tough -– teams are catching up with each other.”
After stodgy 1-0 wins over Haiti and Denmark, England let loose, albeit against limited opposition in Asian champions China.
“I am very delighted. What I said before the game, we are going to do things a bit different. It shows how adaptable this team is. I think today it worked really well, players felt comfortable,” said Wiegman.
“I don’t think they expected us to play this way and they didn’t find a solution.