USA survive scare against Portugal to reach Women’s World Cup last 16

Women’s World Cup champions squeak through into knockout stages after 0-0 draw with Portugal as the Netherlands top Group E.

The United States have held on by a thread to keep the defence of their Women’s World Cup title alive, stumbling into the knockout stages with a 0-0 draw against debutants Portugal at Eden Park.

The four-time champions were playing with everything on the line on Tuesday but spurned several chances to find the net, and the addition of veteran Megan Rapinoe in the second half did little to turn things around against a physical Portugal defence.

They survived a huge scare in stoppage time when Ana Capeta hit the post and another fright when Capeta won a free kick just outside the box a few minutes later but held on through the nerve-searing final minutes of the affair.

The Netherlands go through as group winners after a 7-0 demolition of a Vietnam side, who were beaten just 3-0 by the Americans in their first match at the tournament.

That means pre-tournament favourites the USA will move to Australia to play a last-16 tie on Sunday against the winners of Group G, in all likelihood Olympic silver medallists Sweden.

Nothing about their performance in front of almost 41,000 people in Auckland or in their two previous matches at the tournament suggests the Americans will find it easy going against a side who finished third at the last World Cup.

It is just the second time in Women’s World Cup history that the US have failed to top their group although on the last occasion, in 2011, they reached the final before losing on penalties to Japan.

They had never before won just one group game, and the regression from four years ago in France is striking.

That time they won all three matches in the first phase, rattling in 18 goals without reply.

Coach Vlatko Andonovski has insisted his youthful team need time to find their feet, but an urgent step-up will be required if they are not to be eliminated early in the knockout phases.

The US have never before failed to reach the semi-finals in the eight prior editions of the World Cup.

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 Portuguese team who had beaten Vietnam 2-0 in their last match.

Starting a World Cup match for the first time, Lynn Williams found the going tough but did have her team’s best chances in the opening half, including a snap shot in stoppage time that was saved by goalkeeper Ines Pereira.

The US started better in the second half, but Andonovski was alarmed enough to call for Rapinoe, the veteran replacing Sophia Smith just after the hour mark.

Yet clear chances remained at a minimum, and there were some nervy moments at the other end like when Naomi Girma was booked for a panicked pull on Silva late on.

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.