The United States Women’s National Team still has work to do following a win over Vietnam and a draw with the Netherlands. A defeat in the third match could result in a very early exit from the 2023 Women’s World Cup, a dethroning that would send shockwaves throughout the sport. Potentially upsetting the established order is Portugal, the second debutante in Group E. For the second time, Eden Park – New Zealand’s 50,000-seat national rugby stadium – is hosting the reigning champions.
This is the 11th all-time meeting between the two nations, with the USWNT holding a perfect 10-0-0 record and spotless +39 goal differential (39-0). Ranked 21st internationally by FIFA, Portugal took the long road during qualification, starting with a second-place finish in UEFA’s Group H behind Germany. In the confederation playoffs, A Selecção das Quinas defeated Belgium (2-1) and Iceland (4-1) but were forced into the inter-confederation playoffs due to previous point total during the group stage. A 2-1 victory over Cameroon in February secured the crucial first-ever ticket to the World Cup. The run at the current competition opened with a 1-0 loss to the Netherlands and a 2-0 victory over Vietnam.
Francisco Neto was appointed to the manager role in February of 2014 following a brief stint in charge of Goa in India. His tenure has been a steady build of the program, registering the first two qualifications for the UEFA Women’s Championship in 2017 and 2022, culminating with reaching the World Cup. The 41-year-old Mortágua native has pushed a challenging schedule, building experience that has reaped success and should continue to pay dividends in the coming years.
Neto named a 23-player roster for the World Cup, announcing the group in May. The Campeonato Nacional Feminino is home to 17 of the call-ups, with all but one on the books at Benfica, Braga, and Sporting CP. The remaining six inclusions are spread across Spain, Switzerland, and Italy.
GOALKEEPERS (3): Rute Costa (Benfica), Inês Pereira (Servette), Patrícia Morais (Braga)
DEFENDERS (7): Ana Seiça (Benfica), Carole Costa (Benfica), Catarina Amado (Benfica), Diana Gomes (Sevilla), Joana Marchão (Parma), Lúcia Alves (Benfica), Sílvia Rebelo (Benfica)
MIDFIELDERS (7): Ana Rute (Braga), Andreia Norton (Benfica), Andreia Jacinto (Real Sociedad), Dolores Silva (Braga), Fátima Pinto (Alavés), Kika Nazareth (Benfica), Tatiana Pinto (Levante)
FORWARDS (6): Ana Borges (Sporting CP), Ana Capeta (Sporting CP), Carolina Mendes (Braga), Diana Silva (Sporting CP), Jéssica Silva (Benfica), Telma Encarnação (Marítimo)
Neto deploys a 4-3-3 formation and has endeavored to instill a positive style with increased goal scoring. The team “likes to have the ball” and “does better tactically than physically,” looking to “control the game.” According to Total Football Analysis, Portugal is “a possession-dominant side” that has “players up top who are willing to run in behind” with “very good one-versus-one ability across the squad.” The defense is “resolute” and will “engage in a high press if there’s an opportunity,” but the priority is maintaining a compact structure in order to prevent counter-attacks. The Netherlands was able to dominate on set piece opportunities and win headers at will, also finding space through combination play and surrendering a mere two total shots.
The starter at goalkeeper could be Patrícia Morais, who competes with Braga in the Campeonato Nacional Feminino, finishing at third this past season. The 31-year-old Lisbon native controls her box, coming far off her line to corral crosses and cut down the angle for attackers, only setting herself until the last possible second before diving. While not quite a sweeper-keeper, her actions prevent the opponent from playing too many long balls, with the quickness and reaction speed to out-pace attackers. However, the younger option, Inês Pereira, was between the posts in the opener against the Netherlands. She competes with Servette in the Swiss Women’s Super League and displays composure on short-range opportunities, utilizing all manner of kick-saves to stretch her 5’6” frame to the limit.
Carole Costa won the domestic league last season with Benfica and recently cleared 150 caps with the senior national team. A two-way player, she is an aggressive, alpha defender with a productive scoring rate for both club and country, serving as the main target on corner kicks. Her likely partner is Sevilla’s Diana Gomes, who moved to Spain last season and finished mid-table in the Primera División Femenina de Fútbol. The 24-year-old typically chases the ball and looks to mark the first attacker into the box, focusing on delaying progression into the area until help arrives.
Lining up at left fullback is Catarina Amado of Benfica, who has rebounded after several months with a hamstring injury. She buzzes around the field, always looking to join the attack as quickly as possible with long dribbling runs and combinations up the touchline. On the other side of the formation is the veteran, 33-year-old Ana Borges who set the program’s all-time caps record last summer. The Sporting CP defender is a fearless tackler and goes to ground often while also contributing in the final third with dangerous crosses that dip down behind the opposing back line.
Andreia Norton competes with Benfica, serving as a shuttler despite receiving the ball deep in the defensive third. She is stronger in the counter-attack than a possession build-up, looking to spring teammates into space with her through passes. Slightly less productive at the international level, midfielder Tatiana Pinto is a true goal-scoring threat, first with Sporting CP and now at Levante. The 29-year-old pounces on centering passes at the top of the box with one-time shots and floats into the back post for headers. A veteran of the program in her 15th year at the senior level, Braga’s Dolores Silva serves as a link-up option up and down the field while also tackling the opponent in advanced positions, quickly pushing into the attack. Her distribution is essential in the final third, finding teammates and depositing accurate deliveries over the top.
Portugal were down 2-0— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) July 13, 2022
Diana Silva has just scored the equaliser! pic.twitter.com/wS2RYc60SI
At forward is Diana Silva of Sporting CP, described as having “a lot of technique” and thriving in one-on-one situations, operating on the inside and outside of the field. She is a complete forward, capable of running onto through balls, creating her own shots with tight dribbling, hitting long-range efforts, winning headers, and setting up teammates. Jéssica Silva provides additional “speed and refined technique” on the right side, scoring in bunches after joining Benfica last season from the Kansas City Current. Her impressive movement with the ball beguiles defenders, spinning and dancing down the endline with all manner of stepovers and quick cuts.
Depending on Neto’s whims, there could be a role for one of the program’s young guns, Francisca “Kika” Nazareth. The 20-year-old had a decent run last season at Benfica with 23 goals and 17 assists in 37 appearances. Taking an advanced position up the pitch, she can operate as something of a false-nine or an attacking midfielder, possessing “excellent vision and passing skills” to set up her teammates. The Lisboeta will take angled runs behind the back line and often take far more touches in the box than seemingly necessary, displaying the temerity of youthful flair. The occasional defensive contribution will take her deeper into the formation and surprise the opponent, but her main objective is to increase the scoreline by any means possible, registering the early insurance tally against Vietnam.
The USWNT is in the somewhat uncomfortable position of likely requiring a victory or draw on the last match day. Compared to Vietnam and the Netherlands, Portugal is a different challenge: a high-octane attacking opponent with enough ammunition and the tactical slingshot to take down a giant. The two-time defending champion has the talent advantage and should be expected to walk away with three points, but surprises do occur in the final fixture.
The match is scheduled for Tuesday, August 1st at 3:00 a.m. Eastern, 12:00 a.m. Pacific. Viewing options include FOX, Telemundo, Peacock, and FUBO TV (free trial).