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THE WOMEN’S WORLD Cup is officially anyone’s after the USWNT crashed out of the tournament overnight, losing to Sweden 5-4 on penalty kicks. The shocking defeat means the road to the trophy just got a little bit easier for all of the remaining teams, (except perhaps Jamaica) including the Matildas.

After successive World Cup victories in 2015 and 2019, the exit of the USWNT, the heavy pre-tournament favourites, is akin to Djokovic losing at the round of 16 in a grand slam—it’s not supposed to happen. Sweden’s Lina Hurtig’s spot‑kick, coupled with the brilliance of keeper Zecira Musovic between the sticks, sent Sweden to the quarter finals. It’s the first time in the tournament’s history that USA have been eliminated this early in a World Cup.

US keeper Alyssa Naeher desperately clawed at the final penalty but failed to keep it out.

“It’s a tough moment,” said Vlatko Andonovski, the US head coach. “It just shows how cruel this game can be sometimes and how small details make the difference between winning and losing. I am so proud of the team. I know we were criticised for the way we played … I think we came out today and were all about the grit, the resilience.”

USWNT superstar Megan Rapinoe was one of three USA players to miss a penalty in Sunday’s shootout, skying her effort in her final appearance in a USA shirt.

“This is like a sick joke for me personally, this is a dark comedy that I missed a penalty,” Rapinoe told reporters after the game. “This is the balance to the beautiful side of the game.”

In hindsight, USWNT’s tournament seemed ill-fated from the beginning, with Andonovski’s side criticised for pedestrian performances against the Netherlands and Portugal. Last night they were much better, dominating the ball but failing to find the back of the net, a not uncommon occurrence in tournament football. Sweden came into the game as one of only three sides to have won all of their games so far and must now shape as the new team to beat, along with England and Japan, and, just maybe, the Matildas. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

In tonight’s blockbuster round of 16 game against Denmark all eyes are, of course, on our talismanic captain Sam Kerr. It’s not yet clear what role Kerr will play in the game but with an extra week of rest and recuperation under her belt, she’s likely to at least come off the bench in a super-sub type role. Wait for the cheer when that happens. In the group stage the Matildas often struggled to break down tight defences. Denmark will look to keep a clean sheet in the first half, putting pressure on the Matildas’ offence to make some bold incisions that could lead to Danish counterattacks.

The Matildas will also have their work cut out ensuring Denmark’s no.10, and Kerr’s former teammate at Chelsea, Pernille Harder, doesn’t wreak havoc in front of goal. Harder occupies the same place in the Danes’ offence and popular imagination as Kerr does here, and with 71 international goals, the 30-year-old has the experience and attacking nous to frustrate the Matildas’ defensive line. While the USWNT’s defeat gives the Matildas a sniff at the trophy you can bet the team isn’t looking too far ahead and repeating their “every match is a final” mantra. Tonight marks the biggest night in the history of Australian women’s football, a phrase we keep repeating the deeper the Matildas go in the tournament. Let’s hope it’s not the last time we get to use it.

What happens if the Matildas beat Denmark?

If the Matildas do manage to triumph tonight, they will advance to the quarter finals where they will meet the winner of France and Morocco on Saturday. If they can beat Denmark it would only be the second time in history that Australia has won a knock-out match at the World Cup. The Socceroos have never progressed past the round of 16; the Matildas just once, in 2015.

Who are the remaining trophy contenders in the WWC?

England finished top of their group and have looked strong with a 6-1 thrashing of China in the group stage. Similarly, Japan has been organised and clinical, putting pre-tournament favourites Norway to the sword 3-1. Sixth-ranked Spain are also through to the quarter finals with a 5-1 annihilation of Switzerland. Sweden, ranked third in FIFA rankings, are probably now favourites after taking down the USWNT, while fifth-ranked France are still knocking around. Basically, most of the European powers are still in the tournament and have their sights set on silverware.

What about Jamaica? Do they have a shot at the WWC trophy?

The ‘Reggae Girlz’ are the tournament’s Cinderella story, knocking out powerhouse Brazil last week to claim their maiden birth in the World Cup’s knockout stages. It’s a hell of an achievement for a team that was disbanded back in 2010 due to a lack of funding before being resurrected with the support of Cedella Marley, daughter of Bob Marley. It would be nice to see the team go deeper in the tournament, unless, of course, they meet the Matildas, in which case we will seek to crush them with extreme prejudice.

When do the Matildas play Denmark?

The Matildas play Denmark at 8.30pm tonight at Stadium Australia in Sydney. The game is live on Channel 7 and 7Plus.


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