The architect of the United States women’s national team’s demise, goalkeeper Zecira Musovic of Sweden, had to have gotten in the heads of everyone who took a penalty.
She must have. How else does one explain Megan Rapinoe and Sophia Smith – two of the most confident forwards in the women’s game – completely missing their penalties on the world’s biggest stage?
Musovic’s coach, Peter Gerhardsson – chalked the victory up to his keeper’s effort both physically and mentally – in a performance that won Player of the Match while condemning the United States to their worst Women’s World Cup defeat ever after losing 5-4 on penalties in the Round of 16.
‘When you come to a penalty shootout, it’s the goalkeeper’s game,’ Gerhardsson said (via ESPN). ‘[Musovic] likes when it comes to penalties, she knows it’s her game.
‘I don’t know what she did, what mental thing that she did to make them put them over the bar and things like that. But I think goalkeepers like these kinds of penalties, they’re mentally prepared, that’s their game.
Zecira Musovic won Player of the Match for her amazing performance in net for Sweden
Her coach, Peter Gerhardsson believes Musovic did something to affect the USA mentally
As a result of Musovic’s efforts, Megan Rapinoe (above) and the US are out of the World Cup
‘She was good in the game. Even if she didn’t save any penalties, I think for the other team, maybe they put it outside because they know that if it’s not a good penalty, maybe she takes it.’
True, Musovic did not save a single penalty. She reserved all her save-making abilities for the 120 minutes of play directly preceding that.
As the United States continued to struggle finishing their chances – an issue evident from their first match against Vietnam – Musovic racked up an astonishing eleven saves against the Stars and Stripes.
In a match where the USA out-shot Sweden 22-9 in total and eleven-to-one in shots on target, Musovic – who plays her club football at Chelsea – never truly seemed in trouble.
Even in the closest moments – a 27th minute block on Trinity Rodman, a 53rd minute effort from Lindsay Horan, and a last-gasp attempt from Alex Morgan upon minute 89 – Musovic never wavered and never seemed rushed.
Her fantastic efforts ended the match at 0-0 after extra time before penalties – ensuring the Americans had secured their longest ever scoring drought at a World Cup at 238 minutes.
‘To be able to perform in that way, it’s a lot of hard work that’s been put in over a lot of years that nobody sees,’ Musovic said. ‘The main reason why I’m a goalkeeper is because I give my team the opportunity to win the game.
‘I can only do my best and you can only love the feeling of when you’re in the zone and stuff is happening in a way that you’re just doing it.
Musovic made an astonishing eleven saves across both regular time and extra time Sunday
Rapinoe (L) and Sophia Smith (R) – two of the top US attackers – missed their spot kicks
‘I had a really good feeling before the game. I know we were facing a really good opponent in the US, ranked No. 1 in the world. We had a good feeling in the squad, we know what we are capable of.
‘It was the game style, just go out and do your best, have each other’s backs and stay humble throughout the whole game.’
Musovic watched four shots go by her in total during the shootout. The first three efforts from Americans Andi Sullivan, Lindsey Horan, and penalty substitute Kristie Mewis put the USA up 3-2. When Sweden’s Nathalie Bjorn became the first kick taker to miss in round three, the USWNT seemingly had a window of opportunity.
Up stepped Megan Rapinoe – the retiring legend of women’s soccer – who up until her penalty kick had a rough game by her high standards. Her spot kick certainly was nowhere near those standards either as it sailed over the bar – leading Rapinoe to jog back to her teammates, laughing at herself.
An amazing save from Alyssa Naeher to deny Rebecka Blomqvist gave the Americans the chance to end it all – sending up their phenom Sophia Smith to the spot.
Once again, she stared down Musovic. Once again, Musovic’s sheer presence startled the normally steel-nerved American whose shot had a better chance of landing in Port Phillip than it did in the back of the net.
Hanna Bennison sent the shootout to sudden death. Naeher bested Musovic with the fourth goal for the Americans. Magdalena Eriksson tied it shortly after.
Then Kelley O’Hara, who was brought on late as a substitute specifically for these kicks, also fell victim to Musovic’s voodoo and watched as her effort clanged off the bar.
The game ended as Alyssa Naeher’s (above) effort to stop a shot passed the line by millimeters
Lina Hurtig (8) took that shot and sunk the USA after VAR determined the ball crossed the line
It was the cap to an incredible night from Musovic – who now buoys Sweden into the quarters
It all culminated in the moment of the match, when Naeher got a glove onto the effort from Lina Hurtig – but couldn’t keep it from going behind the goal line by less than a millimeter. A lengthy VAR check confirmed the Swedish upset.
Sweden rushed to Musovic to celebrate – with Eriksson, who took over as captain mid-match, singing her keeper’s praises.
‘It’s gonna be historical,’ Eriksson said. ‘Finally she gets to prove what she can do on the world’s biggest stage. We all know she had this in her and now she could finally prove it.
‘I’m just so happy at the moment. Happy and confused because I feel like I don’t know what’s happened. I can’t believe that we managed to do that. It was such a difficult game for us.
‘We relied a lot on [Mušović] having an amazing game and we managed to pull through to penalties and then we knew anything could happen.’