Round of 16 Day Two: Netherlands v South Africa & Sweden v United States

Netherlands V South Africa

Day two of the Round of 16 stages brought us two more great games of football. Up first was the top of Group E in the Netherlands taking on South Africa who finished second in Group G at Sydney Football Stadium.

The Dutch continued their unbeaten streak for the tournament claiming a 2-0 win and booking themselves a date against Spain in the quarter-finals. However, they will have to take on European giants without Danielle van de Donk, after the star midfielder picked up a second booking in the game. 

It was Jill Roord who gave her side the early lead scoring her fourth goal of the tournament with an opportunist header before Lineth Beerensteyn doubled the lead in the second half after an unfortunate error in goals by Kaylin Swart.

It was an end to a fairy tale ride for the 54th-ranked African nation who was able to escape a group that included Sweden, Italy and Argentina. They did everything they could in their first-ever appearance in the FIFA Women's World Cup knockout stages in what is their second consecutive qualification but were unable to find the back of the net for the first time this tournament.

Thembi Kgatlana by Tiff Williams

Thembi Kgatlana did her best and was a constant threat up top as the lone striker with her team looking to release her in behind the Dutch defence on every regain of possession and counterattack opportunity. She was able to fire several powerful shots off but was unable to beat Dutch goalkeeper Daphne van Domselaar who was well and truly up to the challenge set by the Banyana Banyana.

The Dutch started the game well, controlling possession and finding van de Donk and Lieke Martens in the pockets of space in front of South Africa’s defence. It didn’t take long for the Netherlands to take the lead from a corner in the ninth minute when the low-driven delivery found van de Donk who headed the ball towards the goal before defender Lebohang Ramalepe and Swart both went to clear it and it fell right to Roord for an easy finish. 

It looked like Martens had quickly doubled their lead 10 minutes into the second half after Victoria Pelova found Martens near the penalty area where she somehow found space to spin and get her shot off from close range. The South African defence had switched off calling for Pelova to be offside which lucky for them was confirmed by VAR and the goal disallowed, however, it was a lot tighter than they would have thought. 

Not long after it was Beerensteyn who did give the Netherlands their second goal in the 68th minute. Streaming down the left she unleashed a shot from a tight angle catching Swart out of position and she fumbled what should've been a comfortable save and could only watch the ball fall into the back of the net.

Lineth Beerensteyn by Tiff Williams

The Banyana Banyana responded well and continued to search for their consolation goal. Linda Motlhalo’s first-time shot from outside the box looked destined to find the back of the net but van Domselaar was there to save the day for the Dutch, palming the powerful hit away for a corner. South Africa’s last chance came in stoppage time with Kgatlana finding a way to get a shot off despite being surrounded by orange shirts, but van Domselaar wasn’t allowing it and finished the game with another clean sheet.

The Netherlands will now head back to Wellington Regional Stadium on Friday, August 11 at 11:00am to take on the world number six where they will be hoping to continue their unbeaten run.

Sweden v United States

Sweden has knocked out two-time reigning World Cup champions USA in a dramatic 5-4 penalty shoot-out by a mere millimetre in front of more than 27,000 fans at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, earning themselves a quarterfinal spot against Japan.

It is the earliest in the tournament’s history that the USA has been eliminated, and just the second time in their history that they have been eliminated from a major tournament before the semifinal. The only other time was in the 2016 Olympic quarterfinal in which again they were eliminated by Sweden on penalties.

Despite dominating much of the Round of 16 match, the USA were unable to find the back of the net due to a heroic performance by Sweden goalkeeper Zećira Mušović who had a tournament-high 11 saves for the night.

Sweden on the other hand had only one shot on target in 120 minutes of football. Still, even after extra time, the scoreline remained 0-0, and off to penalties they went.  

Each side went back-and-forth expertly placing the ball from the spot. It was Sweden who blinked first with Nathalie Bjorn hitting her attempt over the bar, but it didn’t take long for the scores to level with Megan Rapinoe doing the exact same in what was her first miss for her club or country since 2018.

USA & Sweden penalties - Kyoko

USA had a chance to win it after Rebecka Blomqvist’s shot was parried away from goal by an outstretched Alyssa Naeher, but Sophia Smith too was unable to find the back of the net, her attempt flies past the outside of the right post keeping Sweden still in it.

The two teams again traded goals with 20-year-old Hanna Bennison stepping up for her country before Naeher went against her fellow keeper and boldly hit the ball straight down the middle. Next, it was the Sweden captain Magdalena Ericsson who beat a diving Naeher to place the ball in the top right corner, keeping her side alive. 

Late substitute Kelley O'Hara attempted to regain the lead but her shot stunningly struck the right post and ricocheted away from the goal giving Sweden the opportunity to keep their World Cup hopes alive. 

Lina Hurtig stepped up to take the possibly game-winning spot kick. She connected with the ball well but Naeher guessed correctly and got two hands to it before it bounced back towards the line in dramatic fashion. She claimed to have saved it on the second attempt but it looked to have crossed the line. Both nations stood still as a check is ongoing but it’s ruled a goal by the smallest of margins and in a twisted turn of events Sweden progressed to the quarterfinals.

It was a cruel end for the world-ranked number one who had plenty of chances in regular time to hit the scoreboard but for the second straight game at the tournament were left goalless. Despite a much-improved performance after their previous efforts in the group stages, they were unable to beat Mušović who was impregnable between the sticks. 

Trinity Rodman was a constant threat down the right flank for the entire first half but her powerful shots were often aimed at Mušović or the keeper was too good and able to make the save. The crossbar also helped out Sweden with USA captain Lindsey Horan unable to direct her header lower in the 34th minute.

 Zećira Mušović makes a save by Kyoko

Horan thought she had the first goal of the night in the 53rd minute when she hit a first-time ball from a cutback that looked to be going in the bottom corner only for Mušović to pull off a brilliant diving save to her left. 

Sweden’s only real chance of the game came in the 85th minute with substitute Sofia Jakobsson forcing Naeher into a rare save after some fancy footwork gave her space to shoot. Straight back down the other end, it was Alex Morgan with America’s final opportunity from point-blank range but once again Mušović produced a superb save to bring on extra time.

Both teams gradually got more tired as time ticked away with neither side able to create as good of chances that they had in the first 90 minutes. After two hours of play, the only way to decide the match was a shootout that went to sudden death where it was almost fitting that it was decided by millimetres. 

Sweden will now play red-hot Japan at Eden Park Outer Oval this Friday, August 11 at 5:30pm for a spot in the semifinal.