What does winning the group mean for the USWNT? Situations and scenarios heading into World Cup group-stage finale against Portugal

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USWNT World Cup 2023 Lindsay Horan
GOAL breaks down what the USWNT must do to finish atop Group E and what it will mean going forward on their road to the final

The United States women's national team's expectation is always to win its World Cup group. There's no ifs, buts or maybes with this. They're the most dominant force this competition has ever seen. Finishing atop the group is a minimum for a team that is among the favorites to win the World Cup every four years.

But, heading into their final group game of this tournament, there is a very real chance that the U.S. does not finish on top of Group E. And there's even a tiny, minuscule chance of a doomsday scenario that sees the two-time defending champions crash out altogether. It feels unfathomable, for sure, but stranger things have happened, right?

If they don't win the group, the USWNT will make some unfortunate history. They've finished top in seven of their eight World Cup appearances, with Sweden in 2011 the only team to finish ahead of the U.S. in a group stage. The U.S. famously went on to lose the World Cup final that summer, falling to Japan on penalty kicks.

Still, the U.S. is still in a position where they very well can win this group, which also features Vietnam, the Netherlands and Portugal. They beat Vietnam 3-0 and then drew with the Netherlands in a scrappy 1-1 clash. That draw ensured it would all come down to the final day. Nothing will be decided until the final whistle blows in that match against Portugal.

So what's at stake for the USWNT? How will their road to the World Cup final be impacted by finishing first or second? And what if, somehow, Portugal pull off the unthinkable and hand the USWNT a historic defeat? GOAL takes a look at all of the scenarios and what they mean for the USWNT...

  1. USWNT win
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    USWNT win

    This one is somewhat easy at the start: if the USWNT win, they're getting out of the group. Phase one would be complete. Bring on the knockouts. However, their place in the group would be very much determined by what goes on elsewhere.

    Heading into the last game, the USWNT is level with the Netherlands on points, but maintain a two-goal lead in goal difference. Therefore, if the USWNT win, the Netherlands would need to beat Vietnam by at least two more goals than the USWNT top Portugal by.

    Should the Netherlands draw, the U.S. would go through as winners with a win of their own. And should Vietnam stun the Netherlands and win, the Dutch would still go through second thanks to the USWNT's help.

  2. USWNT draw

    USWNT draw

    This one is also straightforward, as a draw would be enough to get them through to the knockouts as well. However, it would almost certainly not be enough for them to win the group.

    The U.S. would need Vietnam to get a result against the Netherlands to have any hope of finishing top. A draw in the other game would see the U.S. finish atop the group while a Vietnam win would open the door for Portugal to finish second despite their opening-game defeat.

    Overall, a draw would be enough, but it certainly wouldn't be the result the USWNT would want as they look to build momentum towards the knockouts.

  3. USWNT loss

    USWNT loss

    And here it is: The doomsday scenario. A loss to Portugal would leave the U.S. solely relying on the other game. Portugal will advance, for sure, bu that second spot would go down to the U.S. or Netherlands.

    The Dutch would claim that spot with just a draw, while a Netherlands loss would open up a goal-difference battle that would be in the USWNT's favor.

    Either way, this would be nothing less than a catastrophe for the USWNT.

  4. The road ahead

    The road ahead

    Advancing is the end goal, sure, but there will be a big difference depending on where the USWNT finish.

    Should the U.S. win the group, they'd open up the knockouts, almost certainly, with a somewhat favorable matchup against Italy, South Africa or Argentina. After that would be Switzerland or Spain, with La Roja the favorites to be the USWNT's quarter-final opponent despite their chastening 4-0 loss to Japan on Monday.

    If the USWNT finishes second, though, they'd almost certainly face Sweden in the last 16, who has been dominant in their two games so far, while the potential quarter-final opponents would be the impressive Japan or a resurgent Norway.

    There's almost certainly no avoiding Spain or Japan, but finishing atop the group would give the U.S. a more favorable last-16 clash as they look to march to the final. But that's not the only reason folks back in the U.S. should care about where the U.S. finishes...

  5. Kickoff times

    Kickoff times

    If the U.S. win the group, fans back home will rejoice thanks to a more favorable series of kickoff times for the knockouts. If the U.S. finish atop the group, their quarterfinal game will kick off at 10 p.m. ET on August 5. Should they finish second, fans will have to wait until 5 a.m. ET on August 6 for that last-16 clash.

    The quarter-final round would also be impacted, with those kickoffs set for 9 p.m. ET or 3:30 a.m. ET, depending on where the U.S. finish.