USA and Sweden reach quarter-finals as women’s World Cup heats up

Paris: Megan Rapinoe scored two penalties as defending champions the United States beat Spain on Monday to set up a mouthwatering quarter-final against hosts France at the women’s World Cup, with Sweden joining them in the last eight.

On another day in the limelight for VAR, Sweden’s goalkeeper Hedvig Lindahl made a brilliant second-half penalty save as her country edged out Canada 1-0 in Paris, meaning they advance to a similarly enticing tie against Germany.

The showdown between the holders and the hosts had seemed inevitable from the moment the draw was made back in December, but after France laboured to beat Brazil in extra time on Sunday, the USA did not find the going easy against Spain in Reims. Rapinoe’s first penalty gave Jill Ellis’s team an early lead after Tobin Heath was brought down in the box by Maria Leon.

However, Jennifer Hermoso pounced to equalise moments later after Becky Sauerbrunn had been caught in possession, and Spain held their own after that against the World Cup favourites. They were undone, though, by another penalty awarded for what looked a very slight touch on Rose Lavelle from Virginia Torrecilla. The penalty was confirmed after a VAR check and Rapinoe smashed the ball into the same corner with 15 minutes left to give the USA the tightest of wins and line up the French.

“I hope it’s wild and crazy and the fans are crazy and that there’s tonnes of media around it and it’s just a big spectacle,” Rapinoe said of Friday’s match. “I think it’s going to be incredible for the women’s game. You have two heavy hitters meeting in the knockout rounds and this is everything you want.”

In Paris, more than 38,000 fans saw Sweden edge out fifth-ranked Canada 1-0 at the Parc des Princes thanks to a solitary second-half goal scored by Stina Blackstenius, superbly set up by Kosovare Asllani. Sweden then held on for the victory thanks to Lindahl, who dived to her right to keep out Janine Beckie’s 69th-minute penalty awarded after a VAR review showed Asllani had stopped a Desiree Scott shot with her arm.

“I was so happy, just pure joy, and my teammates felt the same way,” said Lindahl, when asked to describe her emotions after saving the spot-kick. That was the 22nd penalty awarded at this World Cup, equalling the total tally from the 2015 tournament and underlining the influence of Video Assistant Referees, although VAR later intervened to overturn a spot-kick awarded to Sweden.

Agency