Holders US in unfamiliar position before crunch Portugal clash

AUCKLAND, August 1 : Holders United States arrived at the Women’s World Cup as favourites to win an unprecedented third straight title but their place in the tournament will be on the line when they take on Portugal in Tuesday’s Group E showdown in Auckland.

The Americans, who have never been eliminated from the group stage in World Cup history, have not yet hit peak form. They beat minnows Vietnam 3-0, and a 1-1 draw with the Netherlands left both teams locked on four points.

A big win for the Netherlands against already eliminated Vietnam in Dunedin could give them a chance of leapfrogging the defending champions, who sit top thanks to a superior goal difference.

While third-placed Portugal can still qualify with an upset against the top-ranked Americans, the U.S. and Netherlands remain more likely to advance and will aim to rack up the goals.

“For us the most important thing is getting into the knockout stage, first and foremost,” U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski said.

“We don’t want to look two, three, four steps forward. If we start thinking too far ahead, our chance may never come.”

The Group E runners-up could face Sweden, currently leading Group G after thrashing Italy 5-0, in the last 16.

“It would be nice to perhaps avoid Sweden in the next rounds,” said Dutch forward Lieke Martens, who was part of the team that beat Sweden in the 2019 World Cup semi-finals.

“That was a big result (against Italy). There was a lot of scoring against a good opponent.”

Group D will also go down to the wire on Tuesday, with England in the box seat. The European champions sit top with six points and only need a draw against China in Adelaide to seal a knockout spot.

Denmark, playing at a World Cup for the first time since 2007, are level on three points with China but in second place on goal difference before they face tournament newcomers Haiti in Perth.

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