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Women's World Cup Round of 16: Heartbreaking loss for US; Australia keeps fighting on

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Denmark vs. Australia — Photo by Rick Rycroft / AP
Denmark vs. Australia — Photo by Rick Rycroft / AP

The Round of 16 has come to a close in this year's women's World Cup. In a tournament that has been anything but typical, fans have seen surprising upsets, heartbreaking defeats, and underdog teams rising to the top. The action will only continue as eight teams move on to the next round.

Sweeping victories: Spain takes Switzerland
While most matches in the round-robin phase have been close in points and skill level, two teams have stood out for continuing to run up the score. In the first match of the knockout portion of the tournament, Spain annihilated Switzerland.

Just four minutes into the match, Spanish forward Slama Paralluello sent a cross toward teammate Alba Redondo, who flicked the ball at the goal. Switzerland's keeper made a last-second dive to defend the net but couldn't get to the ball in time. Out of nowhere, Swiss defender Nadine Riesen appeared at the goal line, kicking the ball out. Unfortunately for Switzerland, Riesen only cleared the ball to the top of the box, where midfielder Aitana Bonmati was on her toes: she launched the ball to the back of the net, sending it flying past Switzerland's goalie — who didn't even have a second to react.

Just seven minutes later, Spain scored again — though it wasn't on the right goal! Defender Laia Codina flubbed a pass back to her goalie, not fully gaining control of the ball as it bounced off her shin. The attempted pass wasn't even close enough for goalie Cota Coll to run onto, resulting in an own goal and a tied score.

Spain didn't let their own goal get them down. Less than a minute later, they were back in their attacking third. Redondo was ready to make up for her missed shot earlier in the game. The ball crossed directly to the forward; she sent it into the goal with her head and gave Spain the lead once again.

Switzerland barely got a chance to bring the ball across the half-field line. For the rest of the first half, they played defense, trying to keep Spain from scoring more goals. Their attempts were futile. In the 35th minute, Bonmati got her second goal of the match when she received a pass in the middle of the box and shot it right past the goalie.

Before the first half ended, Codona found a way to make up for her own goal. Spain's whole squad crashed the box for a corner kick, leading to absolute chaos. Codona got the final touch and flicked the ball into the net.

In the second half, Spain was more relaxed and ready to connect passes. They attacked less but maintained possession throughout the half. In the 69th minute, forward Jennifer Hermoso broke past Switzerland's defensive line. With just the goalie to beat, Hermoso finished the job, scoring the final match point. At the last whistle, the score was 5-1, with Spain scoring every point in the game..

Kadidiatou Diani leads France to easy victory
The final match of the Round of 16 saw France dominate Morocco. France started the game strong, attacking numerous times but unable to find the net. They finally got their first goal when forward Kadidiatou Diani sank the ball into the net with a beautiful header in the 14th minute. Diani is known for her powerful shot, and this goal marked her fourth in the tournament.

Diani was the clear MVP of the game. She seemed to be everywhere all at once. Four minutes after scoring France's first match point, she sent a cross to teammate Kenza Dali, who rocked a shot from the top of the box. The ball hit the post and crossed into the goal. Not only did this point set France up for a likely victory, but it was also Dali's first-ever World Cup goal.

France proved they could not be stopped as they continued to attack mercilessly. In the 22nd minute, Moroccan defender Nesryne El Chad attempted to clear the ball from the backline to prevent a corner kick. Dianai jumped in front of her and got a touch on it, sending the ball spiraling toward the middle of the box, right where Eugenie Le Sommer was waiting. In the blink of an eye, France was up by 3.

In the 69th minute, France got their final goal of the match when Le Sommer snuck a header right behind the goalie. Le Sommer waited behind the far post for a cross to come and finished the play before Morocco knew what had happened.

Despite France winning the game with an impressive 4-0 victory, Morocco, participating in their first-ever World Cup, showed they're a team to be taken seriously in the next tournament. Nobody expected this underdog team to make it past the round-robin play. With France shaping up for a potential tournament victory, the fact that Morocco didn't let more goals in shows just how much potential they have and how skilled keeper Khadija Er-Rmichi is.

Japan gets narrow victory over Norway
While France and Spain proved they're two teams to watch out for as the tournament progresses, Japan is another emerging super squad. In their match against Norway, Japan started strong. They nearly scored a goal in the first minute, attacking hard and fast. The Japanese attackers had Norway's defense working overtime.

After 15 minutes and several more shots on goal by Japan, the country scored its first point, though technically it was credited to Norway as an own goal. Norwegian defender Ingrid Syrstad Engen tried to deflect the ball but accidentally flicked it into the opposite side of the net, while goalie Aurora Mikalsen dove in the direction of the original trajectory. While the mistake was embarrassing, it also serves as a good reminder that even the best players in the world mess up sometimes.

Norway made a comeback when forward Guro Reiten scored in the 19th minute, heading the ball in on a cross sent right to her. The match continued with both teams showcasing their skills. However, before the ref blew the whistle, Japan got one more goal in when Japanese forward Hinata Miyazawa intercepted the ball in the middle of the box and launched it right into the back of the net, giving the team the lead again.

Though Norway put up a good fight in the second half, Japan's squad hit the field more determined than ever to defend their victory. Proving that sometimes the best defense is offense, the team continued to attack Norway's half. Their persistence continued to pay off when, in the 80th minute, Miyazawa timed the perfect breakaway, launching away from the defender guarding her just as her teammate sent the ball flying over their heads. Miyazawa started her run just in time and beat the keeper in a one-to-one showdown.

Despite the 2-1 score, Norway was determined to make up for their first-half own goal. In the final minutes of the game, they achieved a corner kick that looked like it could be the play to tie the match up once again. However, Japan's goalie Ayaka Yamashita came through with one of the most incredible saves of the tournament so far. She dove and batted the ball out of bounds, preventing the near-inevitable goal.

At the final call of the ref, the game was 3-1, sending Japan on to the next match and Norway back home.

Netherlands battle South Africa
While Japan and Spain showed they could come out and dominate a game from start to finish, other victorious teams took some on-field time to warm up. Despite setting themselves up as one of the most dangerous squads, the Netherlands got a slow start against South Africa. In the first five minutes, South Africa had their first shot on goal. However, seeing their opponents get that close to an early lead snapped the Dutch girls back into the game.

In the eighth minute, Dutch forward Jill Roord scored a header off a cross, putting her team in the lead.

The game was far from over. South Africa was ready to come back. Thembi Kgatlana made a great run, taking the ball nearly half the field before shooting it just over the top of the goal. Kgatlana continued to show off her talent, relying on her foot skills to bring the ball back into the Netherlands' danger zone for another near-goal.

Kgatlana continued to show for the ball, run after run. Near the end of the half, in the 45th minute, she made another long sprint toward the goal. Again, her shot was blocked by goalie Daphne Van Domselaar, but latter couldn't get a hold of the ball, sending the rebound back to Kgatlana. She took another shot, but Van Domselaar was ready this time and pounced on the ball to finish the play. Just three minutes later, Kgatlana shot once again and failed to score.

Despite South Africa dominating in terms of possession, the Netherlands found themselves with the ball and an opportunity. Sending the ball forward, Lieke Martens ran onto the pass and scored a quick goal. The ref recalled the point, however, because her teammate Victoria Pelova was offside.

The Netherlands came back into the second half more determined to step their game up. In the 67th minute, forward Lineth Beerensteyn made a breakaway through South Africa's defensive line. She let the ball rip from the top corner of the box, sending it directly into the net. Beerensteyn seemed to be on a roll, scoring another goal on a breakaway in the 79th minute as well. However, the flag came up, signaling yet another off-side play, and the point was revoked.

Despite the 2-0 score, South Africa gave it their all until the final whistle. Kgatlana had one more shot on goal in the 93rd minute, which was once again deflected by the keeper. Her tenacity should have earned her a point by the end of the match, but Van Domselaar proved she is just that unstoppable.

Australia continues on
Home team Australia has lived to play another match after a 2-0 victory over Denmark. Much like the Netherlands, Australia began the first half languorously. Denmark attacked early and had the first shot on goal in the first minute. The team continued to strike, but Australia's keeper Lydia Williams was always in the right place at the right time.

In the 28th minute, Caitlin Foord ran onto a pass lobbed over Denmark's backline. Foord sent the ball careening into the goal with finesse and ease after Denmark's goalie Lene Christensen came off her line, opening the goal wide open.

In the second half, Australia seemed to have more focus. They kept possession of the ball and built tactful attacks on their opponent. In the 70th minute, Hayley Raso scored the team's second goal after the squad passed the ball around in Denmark's box, waiting for an opening. They had a chance for one more goal when Sam Kerr gained possession on a breakaway toward Denmark's net. However, Kerr got too excited and launched her shot far above the crossbar.

Colombia makes history
Colombia showed up to their match against Jamaica ready to dominate. They made goalie Rebecca Spencer continue to work as they earned corner kick after corner kick in the first half. The squad's inability to get the ball in the net was a testament to the tenacity of the Jamaican team, who had already come much further in the competition than anyone had expected. Underfunded, they had to raise money to send themselves to the World Cup once they qualified.

Jamaica played a physical game. As the score continued to flash 0-0, their frustration became obvious. In the 40th minute, defender Chantelle Swaby earned a yellow card when she slapped Myra Ramirez in the face on a run. The team was already playing with a starter on the bench due to yellows.

The team continued to play with strength, grit, and cunning fouls. Just five minutes later, Linda Caicedo tripped in a tackle. Not one to stay down, she popped back up, and the play continued. She regained possession of the ball but was then pulled to the ground by Drew Spence, who made no attempts to make the foul discreet. The ref called the foul, but tensions were running high. Colombian team captain Catalina Usme had some choice words with Spence before the ref separated them. The whole time, Caicedo writhed in pain on the ground. Spence got a yellow card, the team's second in the half.

Tense emotions have worked to motivate players, as it did in the Colombia game, when Usme came back in the 50th minute, channeling her rage into the game. She received a cross at the top of the box while her mark was behind her, opening her up for the perfect shot. The defender tried to grab her, but it was too late. Usme already had her foot locked on the ball, and nothing was going to stop her. The crowd erupted as she scored the goal that put Colombia into the next round.

Colombia made history by beating Jamaica 1-0. The team will now move on to the quarterfinals — the farthest they've ever gone in the tournament since their first appearance in 2011.

Megan Rapinoe (r) reacts to Team USA's loss to Sweden — Photo by Scott Barbour / AP  

US is out after heartbreaking PKs
Penalty kicks are the most anxiety-fueling part of any soccer tournament. Though they are usually more common in final and semifinal rounds, two matches went into PK shootouts after ending in 0-0 ties.

The most heartbreaking for many Seattle fans was the US vs. Sweden match. Fans were anxious after watching the USWNT barely qualify for the knockout rounds, and some predicted that if they couldn't get a goal in the first half, it would be over for them.

The US seemed to know this and came out of the gate swinging. They played a great first half, connecting passes, dominating possession, and continually attacking up the right side of the field. Unfortunately, senior player Alex Morgan couldn't get in the right place for the crosses sent her way. When she did align herself for a shot, more often than not, it wasn't even on the frame.

Despite the frustration of one of the team's greatest players of all time having an off night, newcomer Sophie Smyth continued to prove herself as a rising star and playmaker, dribbling the ball for lengths and connecting crosses right around Sweden's defense.

When the USWNT returned for the second half, they seemed nervous, aware they were in rough waters after failing to get that first goal. Sweden took advantage of their drop in morale and held firm with possession throughout the half. Coach Vlatko Andonovski had the team in a defensive setup by the end of the half, wanting to prioritize defending against a goal and aiming for PKs.

Before the final whistle, Megan Rapinoe subbed in for Morgan. Though Rapinoe wasn't much better at connecting shots on goal, she had less opportunity. With her help, the US squad earned a few more corner kicks, but nothing hit the net. At the end of the second half, with just one minute of stoppage time added, the ref blew the whistle, and the team prepared for the dreaded PKs.

Shooting first for the US was midfielder Andi Sullivan, who sent the ball to the opposite side of Sweden keeper Zechira Musovic, getting the first goal. Sweden's Fridolina Rolfo kept the score even, sinking her first shot too.

Captain Lindsey Horan was next up for the USWNT and scored a vital second point, matched by Sweden's second shooter, Elin Rubensson. Fans felt a flutter of hope when Kristie Mewis scored the team's third straight goal, immediately followed by a miss by Sweden's Nathalie Bjorn. That hope was short-lived, however, when Rapinoe shanked her shot wide.

The PKs continued in a pretty even stalemate. US goalie Alyssa Naeher scored her PK, with the first round of shots even. This tie sent the teams into sudden death.

Kelly O'Hara cracked under the pressure and missed her first shot, setting Sweden up to get the winning goal. Their final shooter, Lina Hurtig, sent the ball right at Naeher, who deflected it up in the air. Naeher leaped back to punch the ball out of the goal and immediately declared it had been saved.

With such a close call, all the refs gathered to watch recap footage to determine if the ball had crossed the line. After deliberation, they said it had, and the US was knocked out of the World Cup in the earliest stage in women's soccer history.

Though fans and players alike were disappointed at the final results, the team acknowledged that the level of soccer for women worldwide has increased exponentially. Their defeat only shows how far female athletes have come in the last 25 years.

England wins despite bad sportsmanship
In one of the most physical games of the tournament, England managed to hold on to a victory after also going to PKs. Nigeria attacked early in the game, and forward Ashleigh Plumptre had a fantastic shot deflected by the crossbar just 15 minutes in. The team held strong and continued to attack for another minute until the English keeper Mary Earps finally had a solid save.

The game continued to get physical the longer the teams went without a score. In the 33rd minute, the ref called a PK after an English player was pushed into the box. However, on further evaluation, she changed her mind.

In the 83rd minute of the game, England's Laura James got a yellow card for what many have now called "the worst show of sportsmanship" in the World Cup this year. James clobbered Nigeria's Michelle Alozie to the ground, then stomped her cleat down on Alozie's butt before taking off after the ball. After watching the replay footage, the ref determined that James stepped on Alozie on purpose and changed the card to red.

Throughout the game, Nigeria had more shots and controlled possession. Unfortunately, they could not get the ball behind Earps. When the final whistle blew after added play, it was time for the dreaded PKs. Unlike the US-Sweden game, both teams started with a miss. England's Georgia Stanway missed the target, followed by Nigeria's Desire Oparanozie, who did the same.

The final winning point was scored by Chloe Kelly for England, barely putting the team through to the next match. Of course, James will not be allowed to play due to the red card.

It has been a dramatic week of soccer! Watching the USWNT lose in a shootout was especially painful for anyone who stayed up until 4:30 a.m. for the match. Though the era of the "dream team" may be over, there are many more rising stars to continue to root for in this World Cup.