The United States came through a testing last-16 tie against Spain to set up a tantalising Women’s World Cup quarter-final against France.
The world’s number-one side and pre-tournament favourites were given a scare by the Spaniards but survived the first nervy match of their title defence with a narrow win thanks to two penalties.
Megan Rapinoe’s early goal from the spot gave the USA the lead but Spain hit back when Jennifer Hermoso capitalised on a defensive mix-up to equalise brilliantly.
Jill Ellis’ side were awarded another penalty in a tense second half, with the decision standing after a lengthy review from the VAR officials; Spain unhappy at what they saw as the soft nature of midfielder Rose Lavelle’s tumble in the box.
Rapinoe held her nerve to fire in from the spot for a second time and ensure the holders will face the hosts in Paris on Friday, in what promises to be one of the games of the competition.
A potential semi-final against England could follow, with the winner of the Lionesses’ quarter-final against Norway in Le Havre on Thursday set to meet the victors from the USA and France’s clash.
Relief for the favourites
The three-time champions were made to work hard for their last-eight spot, and briefly gave their fans reason to fear they might not extend their record of having always at least reached the semi-finals.
There was a shocked reaction when Hermoso levelled for Spain, as the USA conceded for the first time this summer, having gone 648 minutes of football without letting a goal in since April.
And the USA, who have only lost once since 2017, looked slightly vulnerable in defence under pressure from an improving Spanish outfit.
Nevertheless, the holders created the better chances and were once again strong going forward, with Rapinoe denied by a near-post save in the first half.
The game’s decisive moment came as Lavelle poked the ball beyond Virginia Torrecilla in the area and went down.
Hungarian referee Katalin Kulcsar initially awarded the spot-kick without hesitation, before taking a further look at the replay following guidance from her VAR colleagues. She opted to stick with her original call, much to the frustration of the Spain fans at a passion-fuelled Stade Auguste-Delaune.
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