The U.S. women’s football team qualified for the semi-finals of the Tokyo Olympics on Friday after beating European champions the Netherlands on penalties in a dramatic and grueling quarter-final.
A tense and upsetting game ended in a 30-minute overtime tied 2-2 after USA goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher saved a Dutch penalty that would have sent the Americans home.
And she was the hero again, saving twice in the shootout and preparing Megan Rapinoe to send the United States to the next round.
The USWNT will now face Canada, who beat Brazil 4-3 on penalties after a 0-0 draw in the quarter-finals. Sweden, who beat Japan 3-1, will face Australia in the other semi-final.
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After a stunning 3-0 loss in their opener against Sweden, the United States rebounded with a convincing 6-1 win over New Zealand, before advancing to the round of 16 with a draw. 0-0 against Australia.
This mixed performance meant they finished second in Group G and were forced to face the Netherlands, fourth in the world rankings – the United States is first.
The United States dominated the early stages of the match in Yokohama, a highly anticipated rematch against the team they defeated in the 2019 World Cup final.
But they lost a goal after 19 minutes when Dutch star Vivianne Miedema scored from inside the box. Receiving the ball in traffic, she quickly found her bearings and shot it past Naeher for her ninth goal of the tournament.
The United States tied the game in the 28th minute with a header from Sam Mewis, before taking the lead on a thunderbolt from Lynn Williams.
The second half opened in style, Dutch goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal saving at the feet of Carli Lloyd who was clear on goal.
Then in the 55th minute, Miedema scored again to equalize, landing a right-footed shot into Naeher’s left post.
With less than 10 minutes of the 90 remaining, the Netherlands were awarded a penalty when Kelley O’Hara fouled Lineth Beerensteyn in the penalty area.
But Naeher dived low to his left to save Lieke Martens, to keep the game tied.
In the first half of extra time, the Dutch put the pressure on and got the ball in the net when Beerensteyn headed it back after a scramble in the penalty area. But the goal was ruled out for offside. She then shot just over the crossbar.
The United States team then had two goals ruled out for offside at the start of the second. Christen Press and Alex Morgan both hit the back of the net, only to see them rejected. With three minutes remaining, Megan Rapinoe threw the ball over the bar.
Without anything separating the teams, the match then ended with a penalty shootout in which the Americans made no mistake to seal their place in the semi-finals.
Naeher saved the opening penalty from Miedema and another from Anniek Nouwen. Rose Lavelle, Morgan and Press scored for the United States before Rapinoe – so often the talisman – rose up and confidently shot into the roof of the net.