Portugal women out of World Cup after heroic effort against USA

The female Seleção drew 0-0 against reigning champions USA in Auckland today and are out of the World Cup.

A magnificent effort by Portugal saw them match the Americans in the first half and stay in the game despite heavy pressure in the second. In stoppage time substitutes Telma Encarnação and Ana Capeta combined, the latter smashing a shot against the post (pictured).

Portugal were centimetres away from sending the 4-time world champions back home.

Francisco Neto and his team can be proud of their efforts in the tournament, providing another demonstration that Portuguese football is well and truly on the map in the women’s game. 

All change again

Needing a win to make progress in the tournament, Portugal coach Francisco Neto again made a raft of changes to his starting line-up. After the seven alterations from the first game to the second, Neto this time brought in six new faces, with Inês Pereira, Diana Gomes, Catarina Amado, Andreia Norton, Dolores Silva and Diana Silva recalled to the team.

Facing the FIFA number one ranked team and four-time World Champions, the Seleção refused to be overawed or show fear in an even first half.

Portugal were the first to threaten, Andreia Norton shooting over the bar from inside the box.

Inês Pereira commands her area

USA responded with Lynn Williams getting her head to a cross with Inês Pereira getting down well to save.

It was the first of several excellent interventions by the recalled goalkeeper, who was especially impressive dealing with crosses, bravely coming off her line for well-timed interceptions in a solid defensive performance by the Seleção.

But Portugal did not commit the same error as against the Netherlands when they were overly defensive. The Seleção were enjoying more possession than the Americans in the first half, with several neat passing moves pushing the USA deep into their own half.

Jéssica chance

On 16 minutes Kika Nazareth threaded a beautiful pass through the middle to Jéssica Silva who had a clear run at goal. The Portugal No10 opted to shoot first time from distance, pulling her effort wide, when taking a few steps forward before letting fly would have been the better option.

Nevertheless, the chance further boosted Portugal’s confidence, with nothing separating the teams in a well-balanced encounter. Lynn Williams again threatened in the 27th minute, Pereira saving well, with the rebound struck over the bar.

In the 39th minute Kika latched onto the ball 30 yards from goal, took a couple of steps forward and launched a tremendous right-foot shot that just cleared the bar with US goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher scrambling to get back.

Still in the hunt

Half time arrived and Portugal were still very much in contention for a spot in the knockout stages.

In the second half the Americans began to justify their favouritism, with Portugal failing to trouble the US defence as they had done before the break and having to soak up long periods of pressure.

In the 53rd minute the otherwise excellent Andreia Norton lost the ball carelessly to Lindsey Horan in midfield with the American captain breaking forward and feeding Alex Morgan. The star forward rounded goalkeeper Inês Pereira and seemed set to score, but Diana Gomes had run back and positioned herself intelligently to make a last-ditch clearance and save the day.

Borges shuts down Rapinoe  

USA were pushing forward with more intensity, but the well-marshalled Portugal defence shut down all avenues to goal, led by a superb performance by veteran right-back Ana Borges.

Even when America brought on former World Player of the Year Megan Rapinoe it made little difference with Portugal’s back line dealing well with anything the USA could throw at them, and Borges authentically putting Rapinoe in her pocket.

Neto slow to make changes

If any criticism can be directed towards Francisco Neto, it would be his tardy substitutions.

Telma Encarnação, Portugal’s best player at the World Cup, was brought on only in the 81st minute, and the coach took off the visibly exhausted Diana Silva and freshened up Portugal’s tame second-half attacking efforts with just stoppage time remaining, by bringing on Joana Marchão and Ana Capeta.

That said, it almost proved a genius move. Having held USA at bay all match, Portugal so nearly snatched a famous win in the second minute of stoppage time.

Woodwork denies Portugal

Encarnação flicked on a header in midfield into the path of Ana Capeta, bearing down on goal, who took the ball in her stride, outpaced two defenders and hit a well-struck shot from 20 yards that beat Naeher but bounced back into play after thudding against the post.

Try as they might, the Seleção could not fashion another chance, with the USA – as the Netherlands had done in Portugal’s first match – using substitutions and playing into the corners to wind down the clock.

Analysis: congratulations all round 

Portugal are out of the FIFA World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023, but these women have done the country proud.

The Seleção always faced an uphill task, having been placed in a group that contained the two finalists from the previous World Cup.

But Francisco Neto and his squad deserve huge praise for staying in contention for qualification right until the final moments of their last Group E match, only failing to knock out the USA and make progress by the width of a goalpost.

The Seleção’s performances in the tournament got better and better, culminating by matching the team that has set the gold standard in recent decades for a sport that is growing exponentially, and in which Portugal have been playing catch-up.

On the evidence of what we saw in New Zealand, it is fair to say Portugal have caught up, and could well be contenders for deep runs or even podium finishes in upcoming tournaments.

Another reason for optimism in a rosy future was provided by the brilliant individual performances of many of the younger members of the squad, namely Telma Encarnação, Kika Nazereth, Andreia Jacinto and Ana Seiça, all of whom are under 23 years old and have their whole careers in front of them.

It was Portugal’s first World Cup. For sure the first of many.

by Tom Kundert

Portugal: Inês Pereira, Ana Borges, Carole Costa, Diana Gomes, Catarina Amado (Joana Marchão, 90’), Andreia Norton (Telma Encarnação, 81’), Tatiana Pinto, Dolores Silva, Kika Nazareth (Andreia Jacinto, 62’), Jéssica Silva, Diana Silva (Ana Capeta, 90’)

USA: Alyssa Naeher, Naomi Girma, Julie Ertz, Emily Fox, Andi Sullivan, Lindsey Horan (Emily Sonnett, 83’), Rose Lavelle, Crystal Dunn (Kelley O’Hara, 97’), Lynn Williams (Tinity Rodman, 84’), Alex Morgan (Alyssa Thompson, 97’), Sophia Smith (Megan Rapinoe, 61’)