The U.S. women's national team found itself in an unexpected battle with Spain in the Women's World Cup round of 16 on Monday and survived–but not by much.
Megan Rapinoe's two penalty kicks were all that saved the Americans against an impressive, pressing Spain side, which gave the defending champions all they could handle before bowing out of the competition with a 2-1 defeat Reims, France.
Host France awaits in the quarterfinals for the USA, which persevered in a rematch of a January friendly in which Spain did well to limit the USA before ultimately succumbing to a 1-0 defeat, thanks to a goal from Christen Press. That match was the only previous meeting between the two sides, one that U.S. manager Jill Ellis said she sought out aggressively in order to prepare the Americans for a match such as this. In the end, Spain displayed a different, more proactive and aggressive style and might feel aggrieved after a potential penalty in the dying moments of stoppage time wasn't reviewed by VAR–which did confirm the USA's second penalty of the day.
Alex Morgan and Julie Ertz returned to the U.S. lineup after nursing minor injuries, but Lindsey Horan was left out of Ellis's side, replaced by Sam Mewis. With Horan carrying a yellow card and one more away from a suspension, perhaps Ellis was opting to protect her status for a potential quarterfinal matchup vs. France. Regardless, Mewis has shown well in the tournament, earning a starting nod on her own merit.
The first threat of the match came in the first minute from Spain, which found space down the left side on a counterattack. After an initial cross was blocked, Patri Guijarro wound up with a clear look from distance, one that was blocked clinically by Becky Sauerbrunn, who headed away the danger before it could test goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.
The USA recovered from the opening nervy moments and earned the right to go ahead in the fifth minute. After receiving a pinpoint pass from Abby Dahlkemper, Tobin Heath drew a penalty, cutting in from the right. Rapinoe buried the ensuing spot kick, giving the USA a 1-0 lead and handing Spain, a side that struggles to score in bunches, a worst-case scenario to start the match.
The USA gifted Spain a chance to get back in the game, though, three minutes later. Sauerbrunn flubbed a ball out of the back from Naeher, and Spain pounced, with Jenni Hermoso eventually beating Naeher with a chance from 18 yards to make it 1-1 in the ninth minute. That was the first goal conceded by the USA all Women's World Cup.
The Americans had a great chance to retake the lead soon after. Rose Lavelle played a perfect diagonal cross for Rapinoe, who was streaking down the left, but her finish to the near post was turned aside for a corner kick.
Ertz had the USA's next chance in the 25th minute. Off a set-piece routine, Kelley O'Hara wound up with possession just outside the box on the right side. She found Ertz on the near-post run, but the midfielder's first-time chance was overhit and sailed well high.
The USA had the better of the opportunities over the ensuing 20 minutes in the half, but Spain didn't seem too bothered, continuing to selectively press and frustrate the Americans. Spain did suffer a setback just after the half-hour mark, when Vicky Losada was forced out with an injury.
Things took more of a physical turn in the second half. Morgan wound up on the ground for multiple minutes after a hard foul, one that came after Heath took a sliding, cleats-up challenge into the thigh, only for the cards to remain in the referee's pocket.
Heath nearly exacted her revenge in the 55th minute, opting for a difficult chance from 18 yards by whipping in a right-footed change that whizzed over the crossbar. The USA put another chance over the bar five minutes later, with Lavelle striking a well-hit ball with her left, only to put it a bit high and into the U.S. supporter section.
Spain didn't offer much going forward in the early stages of the second half, but Guijarro put the U.S. on notice in the 63rd minute, springing free inside the box and sending a teasing ball through the goalmouth, missing the far post by a little bit and keeping things at 1-1.
The USA went ahead in the 76th minute in somewhat controversial fashion. Lavelle was judged to have been tripped going through the box while trying to play a loose ball. The penalty was then upheld by a VAR review, gifting the USA its second penalty of the day. Before the review it looked like Morgan was going to take it, but after it, Rapinoe stepped to the spot, went to the same side as she did for her first and restored the lead for the Americans, making it 2-1 with a quarter of an hour to go.
The USA saw out the match from there, but not before a controversial moment. It appeared that Spain had a penalty gripe in the seventh of the seven minutes of stoppage time, but no call was made, no review was initiated and the Americans are marching on, while Spain's time in France has come to an end.
Here was the USA's lineup for the match:
Here are the rosters for both sides:
GOALKEEPERS: Adrianna Franch (Portland Thorns), Ashlyn Harris (Orlando Pride), Alyssa Naeher (Chicago Red Stars)
DEFENDERS: Abby Dahlkemper (NC Courage), Tierna Davidson (Chicago Red Stars); Crystal Dunn (NC Courage), Ali Krieger (Orlando Pride), Kelley O'Hara (Utah Royals), Becky Sauerbrunn (Utah Royals), Emily Sonnett (Portland Thorns)
MIDFIELDERS: Morgan Brian (Chicago Red Stars), Julie Ertz (Chicago Red Stars), Lindsey Horan (Portland Thorns), Rose Lavelle (Washington Spirit), Allie Long (Seattle Reign), Samantha Mewis (NC Courage)
FORWARDS: Tobin Heath (Portland Thorns); Carli Lloyd (Sky Blue FC), Jessica McDonald (NC Courage), Alex Morgan (Orlando Pride), Christen Press (Utah Royals), Mallory Pugh (Washington Spirit), Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign)
GOALKEEPERS: Dolores Gallardo (Atlético Madrid), Maria Quinones (Real Sociedad), Sandra Panos (FC Barcelona)
DEFENDERS: Celia Jimenez (Seattle Reign), Leila Ouahabi (FC Barcelona), Irene Paredes (Paris Saint-Germain), Ivana Andres (Levante UD), Marta Corredera (Levante UD), Marta Torrejon (FC Barcelona), Andrea Pereira (FC Barcelona)
MIDFIELDERS: Vicky Losada (FC Barcelona), Alexia Putellas (FC Barcelona), Patri Guijarro (FC Barcelona), Virginia Torrecilla (Montpellier), Silvia Meseguer (Atlético Madrid), Aitana Bonmati (FC Barcelona), Amanda Sampedro (Atlético Madrid)
FORWARDS: Mariona Caldentey (FC Barcelona), Jennifer Hermoso (Atlético Madrid), Maria Leon (FC Barcelona), Lucia Garcia (Athletic Bilbao), Andrea Falcon (Atlético Madrid), Nahikari Garcia (Real Sociedad)