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Chasing history or going down in infamy: What's at stake for USWNT vs. Portugal

The women need a result against Portugal for a guaranteed spot in the Round of 16

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The U.S. women's national team entered the 2023 World Cup looking to make history.

But they are suddenly in danger of going down in infamy.

The two-time reigning champions and 2023 tournament favorites opened World Cup play with an uninspiring 3-0 victory over Vietnam. Then, in a rematch of the 2019 final against the Netherlands, the USWNT fell behind in a World Cup match for the first time in over a decade. While they were able to salvage a point thanks to captain Lindsey Horan, the 1-1 tie ended their tournament-record 13-game winning streak.

The USWNT is still very much in control of its own destiny entering the group stage finale. A win or draw against Portugal, which is 21st in FIFA's world rankings, would send them through to the Round of 16.

A loss, however, would likely have the USWNT heading home way earlier than expected. The only way they could still advance following a loss is with a Vietnam upset victory over the Netherlands that leaves the Americans with a superior goal differential compared to the Dutch. (The USWNT currently holds a plus-two advantage in goal differential).

In a scenario where the team suffers its first World Cup loss since 2011 and are eliminated, it would mark their worst ever finish in the tournament by a wide margin. Not only have they made it out of group play in all eight previous World Cups, but they've also reached every semifinal. Their worst finish in the tournament is third place, which they've achieved three times.

There has also never been a defending WWC champion who crashed out of the tournament in group play.

How to watch USWNT vs. Portugal in Women's World Cup

“I think we feel like we have to win everything all the time,” forward Megan Rapinoe said, via AP. “That’s the expectation for ourselves. That’s the expectation playing for U.S. national team. It’s just kind of like, ‘Why would you come into the World Cup if you don’t think that you should win it, and if you don’t think that you can win it?’”

They still have a great chance to become the first team ever -- men's or women's -- to win three straight World Cup titles. But they need to make it out of group play first to keep that dream alive.

“One thing is for sure, that we have a job to do and that’s first and foremost to take care of our game, so our main focus right now it our performance, our team, and Portugal,” coach Vlatko Andonovski said. “What happens on the other side is something we can’t control. We have to stay focused on the things we can control.”

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