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The U.S. is at risk of heading home early from the FIFA Women's World Cup

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

The United States could be at risk of heading home from the Women's World Cup without even making it into the knockout round. After their faceoff with the Netherlands ended in a tie, the best chance for the defending two-time champs to stay on the pitch is to beat Portugal in a game less than 24 hours from now. Alicia DelGallo is a senior editor for USA Today Sports. Alicia, so I mentioned a win is ideal. Can they stay alive with a tie?

ALICIA DELGALLO: Hi. Yes, they can stay alive with a tie. But you're looking at tiebreakers and goal differentials and other teams doing what they're supposed to do. So let's avoid all of that and just win like they're supposed to.

MARTÍNEZ: Cut through all the red tape, right? That would be the ideal situation. How does the United States compare to Portugal?

DELGALLO: If you ask me, entering the tournament, the United States should beat Portugal. They are more experienced. They have incredible forward talent. But seeing how the U.S. has performed in the last two games and the hesitancy from the coach to use subs in the last game when they were down and, you know, looking for some firepower - also seeing how some of the traditionally non-powerful countries in a World Cup have been putting up such a fight against other countries, I think it's going to be an interesting one. But the U.S. should be able to handle this game.

MARTÍNEZ: Wow. Just two games and all of a sudden there's doubt. Could it just be a blip - these two games?

DELGALLO: Well, I don't think I would consider it a blip. I think that this team needed to kind of be more cohesive and are working through some things in the first two games. And also, there were some injuries. So a little bit of lack of consistency there, entering the tournament - maybe getting into a groove.

MARTÍNEZ: Getting into a groove. Now, I'm wondering - so the United States women have really fought to grow the women's game all over the world. Did that somehow now come back to bite them in that there are better teams all over the world now?

DELGALLO: Yeah, I don't think they would characterize it as coming back to bite them. This is what they wanted, right? Competition rising throughout the world, and it will only make them better as well. But that said, yes, the gap is definitely closing. We've been talking about this for a long time. We could see signs of it at the last World Cup in 2019, and it's just kind of been like, let's see what happens at this World Cup. And now we're seeing it. We're seeing Jamaica perform well. We're seeing Colombia upset in Germany. We're seeing the Philippines pull off upsets. And so it's definitely looking like the gap is closing as a result of the growth.

MARTÍNEZ: So if not the U.S., then has any other team specifically emerged as a team to beat? Because I just saw Japan really beat Spain badly.

DELGALLO: Yeah, Japan has been looking really good. Japan has always been a tough team. They're doing what they're supposed to do and then some during this group stage. And then I would say some of the countries that came in that looked like they would compete for No. 1 - originally England, France, Sweden, you know, are looking good. But Japan is looking particularly dominant for sure. I would have put Germany at the top of that pack until Colombia.

MARTÍNEZ: Makes for a more exciting tournament. Alicia DelGallo with USA Today Sports. Thanks a lot.

DELGALLO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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