Alyssa Naeher still believes she saved Sweden’s game-winning penalty for the U.S. women’s national team at the 2023 World Cup. And she probably always will.

As the USWNT goalkeeper shared with Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams on the latest episode of “Snacks,” she spent the entire day with “this feeling in the pit of my stomach” that the Round of 16 match would end in a scoreless draw followed by a penalty shootout.

“I’m not really a visualization person,” she said. But leading up to the match, she even got the feeling that she would take a penalty kick herself, and that she would have to make a double save of one of Sweden’s shots.

“And it literally played out,” she said. “I’m like, I don’t know if I overly manifested this. But obviously in my head, in the visualization, we moved on and we won.”

That part of her vision did not come to fruition. While Naeher spent the shootout diving “as far as (she) possibly could,” and she even got a hand on Lina Hurtig’s shot in the seventh round, the ball tipped up into the air and crossed the goal line by millimeters before Naeher grabbed it.

“It felt like it was in slow motion,” she said. “I felt like I ended up diving past it, and I was just trying to get anything on it. Truthfully, I will go to my grave claiming that I saved it. You cannot convince me otherwise.”

Williams agreed with Naeher, saying she also thought the goalkeeper had made the save as she watched from the pitch with their USWNT teammates. And Naeher, for her part, still has a picture of the moment saved on her phone.

“I have looked at it an unhealthy amount of times since the game has ended,” she said. “I’ve watched it over and over.”

“There’s no space between the ball and the line,” Williams said.

“Like, I don’t think that you could convince me that [there was a goal],” Naeher continued. “I genuinely thought that I saved it.”

Even as the referee signaled that the shot had crossed the line, even as Sweden started to celebrate, Naeher could not believe it.

“When she blew the whistle and I watched them run, I don’t think I can describe the sinking feeling,” she said. “But it was the most bizarre way to end the game.”

When Williams watched the video of the penalty for the first time on the stadium screen, then saw Naeher “visible angry” with the result, the loss finally sunk in. Naeher rarely shows such anger, Williams said, so her emotion hammered home the reality of the defeat.

“It hits you all in one moment,” Naeher said. “But then it also then spreads out. And I think that anger, that emotion, that stuff… you know better than anybody how much time and energy gets put into the preparation for a tournament. What you sacrifice – time with family, time with friends – and it’s all worth it. You do it for those experiences. You do it for the honor to represent your country at a World Cup. That’s why you put in all that time.

“And obviously, no one game, no one tournament comes down to one play. But in that moment, it felt like we lost the World Cup by a millimeter.”

The U.S. women’s national team bowed out early at the 2023 World Cup. But the 2024 Olympics are just around the corner, and Sam Mewis expects the USWNT to contend for the gold medal.

The 30-year-old midfielder starred at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 but has not appeared for the USWNT since then due to a lingering knee injury. After a second surgery on her knee in January, she is taking her recovery “one day at a time,” and she still wants to return to the pitch, she told GOAL in July.

The USWNT would benefit from a healthy Sam Mewis at the Paris Games, with the women’s tournament set to kick off on July 25, 2024, in France. And while Mewis did not address her own recovery, she expressed optimism in the USWNT’s chances on Just Women’s Sports‘ World Cup podcast “The 91st.”

“We have a lot of young players. Some players that have been injured who could be back,” she said. “So I am really excited to see the U.S. have this quick turnaround. What we can do to come back and be a contender in just a year?”

Mewis identified several other teams — in addition to World Cup champion Spain — that could make a run at the gold medal. Take Sweden, who finished in third place at the World Cup but has been knocking at the door of a championship for years.

“Sweden has been at the top for a bunch of tournaments in a row,” she said. “My gosh, they had such an incredible tournament and to just see it slip away from them was really disappointing.”

England and Japan also impressed her with their play, as did up-and-comers Nigeria and Colombia, “who pushed further than people maybe expected,” she noted.

While her USWNT teammate Midge Purce poked fun at Mewis for choosing too many teams as possible contenders, Mewis said she remains content to be “a diplomat” as she evaluates the field for next year’s tournament.

Sweden captain Caroline Seger decried the Spain soccer federation president for kissing star player Jenni Hermoso in the aftermath of La Roja’s World Cup win.

“Horrible and unacceptable,” Seger said.

Luis Rubiales, president of the Spanish football federation (RFEF), kissed Hermoso on the lips as the team celebrated its World Cup title. Rubiales later apologized, while Hermoso downplayed the incident, calling it “a natural gesture of affection and gratitude.”

Seger, though, took issue with Rubiales’ actions, as Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet reported. The 38-year-old midfielder won the third-place match with Sweden one day before the tournament final on Aug. 20, then watched with the rest of the world as Spain defeated England, 1-0, to take the title.

“I can’t understand how it can happen, and to me it feels really weird,” said Seger, according to a translation. “I want the whole world to react and I want something to happen because it’s clear that there are problems in RFEF. If people think it’s not wrong, it’s just not acceptable!”

Irene Montero, Spain’s national minister for equality, also condemned the kiss, calling it “a form of sexual violence.” San Diego Wave coach Casey Stoney criticized Rubiales as well, asking in a social media post: “Would he kiss a male player like this? This is NOT ok.”

The controversy comes against the backdrop of turmoil within the Spanish federation. Head coach Jorge Vilda selected only three of 15 players for the World Cup team who had expressed concerns with his leadership in a written letter to RFEF.

The 2023 World Cup is down to two teams, with England and Spain set to face off in the championship match. Both teams are competing in their first World Cup final, so a first-time champion will be crowned in Sydney on Aug. 20.

Check out the complete schedule and knockout stage results below, and catch up on the semifinals with our coverage of La Roja’s 2-1 win against Sweden and the Lionesses’ 3-1 victory over Australia.

2023 World Cup: Schedule and how to watch

All remaining World Cup matches are available to watch on Fox, Telemundo and Universo. They can be streamed on the Fox Sports app and on Peacock.

Third place

  • Saturday, Aug. 19
    • 4 a.m. — Sweden vs. Australia (Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane)

Championship match

  • Sunday, Aug. 20
    • 6 a.m. — Spain vs. England (Stadium Australia, Sydney)

Sweden’s World Cup heartbreak continued Tuesday with a 2-1 loss to Spain in the semifinals.

Late drama featured Spain going up 1-0 before Sweden managed to pull even a few minutes later. But Spain would not be denied, scoring in the 89th minute to seal the win.

In Women’s World Cup history, Sweden consistently has been among the best teams, but their fifth semifinal appearance ended in familiar fashion. The loss to Spain was their fourth in the semifinal round, which is the most among all World Cup teams.

Back-to-back World Cup semifinals, a Women’s Euro semifinal appearance last year and a silver medal at the Tokyo Olympics in 2021 tell the story of this Sweden team, which has always been good – just not good enough.

“I’m tired of crying big tournament tears,” vice-captain Kosovare Asllani said following the loss. “I don’t think people understand the energy and the passion that is behind this. It really sucks, we dreamed of a World Cup final.

“I’m so proud of this team, where we are today and how we have performed in this tournament. We deserved to be in the final, but that’s how football is.”

Sweden coach Peter Gerhardsson expressed similar emotions after the loss.

“I have to watch the game, I really do, before I can make any assessments,” Gerhardsson said. “Right now I am full of emotions. It is the third loss in the semifinals. I think everyone just feels sadness and huge disappointment.”

For a second consecutive game, Salma Paralluelo entered a World Cup match as a substitute for Spain. And for the second consecutive game, she made the most of the opportunity.

The 19-year-old forward scored the first goal of Spain’s semifinal against Sweden in the 81st minute to give her team the lead. La Roja went on to win 2-1, advancing to their first-ever World Cup final.

“It was a magic moment,” Paralluelo said after the victory. “I feel extremely proud. All of us are extremely proud of the work we’re doing. We’re just one step away from glory.”

For Spain, Paralluelo is creating much of the magic. She scored her second goal in as many games against Sweden after notching the game-winner against the Netherlands in the quarterfinals. It has been a World Cup to remember for the former track star.

She took up both soccer and track at 7 years old. She excelled in the 400-meter hurdles, and she may even have made a run at the Olympics, but she ultimately chose soccer.

“I always saw myself reaching for the top in both sports,” Paralluelo told FIFA last year. “That’s why I wanted to keep on doing them. I’ve been told that I’ve got a body that’s made for athletics, but in football they say that I’ve got great fitness and physique and an ability to learn when it comes to training. I’ve always felt 100% in both.”

Injuries played a role in her decision her to step away from the track, forcing her to pick one sport. But she doesn’t regret the decision, she told FIFA.

“It’s my way of life, my way of having fun and expressing myself. Football is everything,” she said.

“The thing is, if you want to achieve great things, you have to commit yourself to one sport, which is how things turned out that year,” she continued. “It was frustrating for me because I didn’t recover well from my injury and I couldn’t go out and be an athlete again. If I’d carried on, however, I would have lost more than I would have gained.”

And now she has become the second-youngest player to score in a Women’s World Cup semifinal game, following Canada’s Kara Lang in 2003 – who also scored against Sweden. While Spain is missing a number of veteran stars amid a dispute with the national federation, Paralluelo is shining bright for her country in her first World Cup.

Spain advances to its first-ever Women’s World Cup final following a wild finish to its semifinal match against Sweden.

Neither team scored until the final 10 minutes of Tuesday’s contest, but Spain’s Salma Paralluelo opened the floodgates with her goal in the 81st minute. Rebecka Blomqvist pulled Sweden even in the 88th minute, and the game seemed destined for extra time — until Olga Carmona scored off a set piece less than one minute later to send Spain to the championship match.

“I am euphoric,” Carmona said. “I can’t wait for the final. I have never experienced anything like it in football.”

Spain and Sweden’s frantic ending marks the first Women’s World Cup match in which the first goal was scored in the last 10 minutes and at least three goals were scored overall.

“It was a magic moment once again,” said Paralluelo, who scored the game-winner against the Netherlands in the quarterfinal round for her first World Cup goal. “It’s something that’s very unique when I scored that first goal and to be able to repeat this is really incredible.”

Sweden’s fifth World Cup semifinal ended in familiar fashion, as Sweden became the first team to lose four times at this stage of the tournament. Despite playing in five semifinals, Sweden has reached a World Cup final just once, which resulted in a 2-1 loss to Germany in 2003.

La Roja entered the 2023 tournament without a win in any World Cup knockout round. Their third win in a row propels them to the final at 6 a.m. ET Sunday, where they will face the winner of Wednesday’s semifinal between England and home team Australia.

Plenty of players have electrified the pitch throughout the World Cup, from Colombia’s Linda Caicedo to Nigeria’s Asisat Oshoala to the USWNT’s own Naomi Girma.

Yet with the World Cup semifinals arriving Tuesday, Just Women’s Sports is taking this moment to highlight four of the best from the the four remaining teams: Australia, England, Spain and Sweden. These players are worth watching as we wait to see who will play for the title.

Australia: Hayley Raso

Raso and Caitlin Foord have lessened the sting from the absence of Matildas star Sam Kerr in the group stage and her limited playing time in the knockout rounds. Raso in particular has been a big part of that, scoring a team-leading three goals – including one against Denmark to help push the team to the quarterfinals.

The World Cup run for the home team also stands as an amazing journey for Raso, who battled back from a broken back five years ago to lead the Matildas to Wednesday’s semifinal against England.

England: Alessia Russo

Despite battling injuries and a red card, England has pulled through to the semifinals for a second consecutive World Cup. But the Lionesses will be without breakout star Lauren James due to her red card suspension.

Instead, they’ll need to rely on other stars, including Lauren Hemp and Alessia Russo, both of whom who showed up on the scoresheet in the 2-1 quarterfinal win against Colombia. Russo is England’s second-highest scorer alongside Hemp, and she scored the game-winner against Colombia to seal her team’s spot in the semifinals. She will be needed once more against Australia. But she’s proved herself in big moments before, having scored a viral goal against Sweden in the Euros last summer. Now she’s showing up at the World Cup and is a vital piece in England’s run to a possible appearance in the championship match.

Sweden: Amanda Ilestedt

Amanda Illestedt is the top remaining scorer in the Golden Boot race with four goals, although Japan’s Hinata Miyazawa exited the tournament with five. For Ilestedt, who is playing as a central defender, to sit in the best position among the semifinalists has surprised even her own teammates.

“I don’t think so many of us were expecting her to be top scorer in our team,” forward Fridolina Rolfö said. “But she’s an amazing player, especially with her head, and I am so happy for her.”

Defensively, Ilestedt has helped Sweden to three shutouts and held opponents to just two goals scored in competition.

Spain: Salma Paralluelo

While Alba Ferrer, Aitana Bonmati and Jennifer Hermoso have all made their mark on this tournament with three goals apiece, it’s Salma Paralluelo who has made a bit of a name for herself for Spain. She’s scored just one goal this tournament, but it’s arguably the biggest of her career as the game-winner in the team’s quarterfinal match against the Netherlands. She came off the bench to create one of the biggest moments of the quarterfinals.

“We have succeeded. We have fought until the end. We have believed,” Paralluelo said after the match. “It was a unique moment. Great euphoria to have lived through that.”

Those who know soccer, though, should not be surprised at her rise. She helped Spain’s U-20 team lift the trophy at the U-20 World Cup in 2022, scoring two goals in the final to help the team to the trophy for the first time.

Lina Hurtig made history Sunday when her penalty kick pushed Sweden past the U.S. women’s national team in the Round of 16. Her game-winner sealed the USWNT’s earliest ever exit from a World Cup.

Now, some fans in Sweden are calling for Hurtig to get a tattoo of the iconic moment. Hurtig would be open to the idea, she said — but only if her team goes on to win its first World Cup title. First, Sweden has to knock off Japan in a quarterfinal matchup at 3:30 a.m. ET Friday.

“I’ve said that we have to beat Japan now, otherwise it’s all for nothing,” Hurtig said in an interview on Swedish radio. “But if we win gold it’s not impossible.”

Hurtig entered the game against the USWNT in the 81st minute, and then stepped up the line during penalty kicks with the teams knotted at 4.

Her kick did not come without controversy. USWNT goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher dove to her right and got both hands on the ball, then punched it away as it hurtled backward. But an image from FIFA’s goal-line technology showed the ball had crossed over the line by millimeters, triggering celebration for Sweden.

As the USWNT players sulked, Hurtig was mobbed by her teammates. Sweden has appeared in all nine Women’s World Cups but has never won the tournament.

“The (goal-line) picture I’ve seen a lot, the penalty not so much,” Hurtig said. “I don’t want to see it again, I get a little pain in my stomach actually, there’s so many feelings that come up when I see it.”

For fans of the U.S. women’s national team, the World Cup quarterfinals might feel like a landmine of missed opportunities. After the reigning champions suffered the earliest World Cup exit in team history, fans back in the States are now in the unfamiliar position of finding a new squad to support with three rounds still to be played.

The good news for USWNT fans is that there are a number of other teams ready to make history that are worthy of a now neutral fan’s attention. After a group stage that saw underdogs rise up and favorites fall, it feels like anything is possible on the path to the 2023 World Cup title.

Here’s a quick guide for USWNT fans looking to get caught up before the quarterfinal round begins.


For fans of: Hometown heroes, attacking football, good vibes

Australia is trying to advance past the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time in team history, and for lack of a more descriptive term, the vibes are strong. They looked confident against Denmark in the Round of 16, progressively finding their feet without star striker Sam Kerr. The game was Kerr’s first appearance at the World Cup after sustaining a calf injury in training, and she’ll continue to build fitness the longer the tournament progresses. Australia’s defense in transition is still a major question mark, but who doesn’t love a team that only moves in one direction: forward.


For fans of: Redemption, clarity of purpose, towering headers

France wasn’t perfect going into the knockout rounds, but they got the performance they needed against Brazil in the group stage to move onto the Round of 16, where they defeated Morocco 4-0. Under new head coach Herve Renard, France has appeared less caught up by decision-making in transition, moving the ball with purpose and providing service to Kadidiatou Diani, who has four goals and three assists so far in the tournament. France failed to advance past the quarterfinals at home four years ago, and they have the chance to wipe that memory away in 2023.


For fans of: The underdog, singular generational talent, a larger movement

Colombia’s success has quickly become one of the most fun storylines of the tournament, following an impressive group-stage performance and a clinical win over Jamaica in the Round of 16. They’ve played in front of raucous crowds and awoken the sleeping giant in South American soccer. They also have a superstar of both the present and future in 18-year-old Linda Caicedo, who terrorizes defenders by scoring goals herself and creating space for her teammates. They face European champion England next, with a chance at pulling off an upset for the ages.


For fans of: The favorites, tactical flexibility, a good plan coming together

Everything was going well for England after three wins in the group stage, but a bad decision resulting in a red card for star playmaker Lauren James in the Round of 16 leaves the team even more shorthanded. The good news for the Lionesses is they’ve already made necessary tactical shifts, and there’s no reason to believe head coach Sarina Wiegman can’t make similar adjustments against Colombia. England is now the consensus favorite to win it all, with the mentality to match, but their roster has cracks they’ll need to fill.

Chloe Kelly scored the game-winning penalty kick for England in the Round of 16. (Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)


For fans of: A new style of winner, club investment leading to international success

Spain has been almost stereotypical in their approach to the World Cup thus far. Outside of one tough loss to Japan, they’ve looked ready to overpower their opponents with ease. They are willing to pass endlessly to find the right entry point through a defense, and they’ll keep shooting until they find the right moment to slip the ball into the back of the net. Aitana Bonmati has been particularly excellent for a Spanish side ready to prove that their style of soccer can win the program its first major championship.


For fans of: Individual quality, riding the wave, big game experience

Fans might be surprised at the Netherlands’ resilience as they’ve dealt with roster transition and injury to star forward Vivianne Miedema, but perhaps their ability to progress this far shouldn’t come as such a shock. They have a number of quality players with big-game experience both at the club and international level, and they survived the Round of 16 thanks to a fair amount of problem-solving. In two big games against the U.S. and South Africa, the Dutch haven’t been able to control entire matches, but they capitalize on their chances when they arrive and can ride the wave of momentum to positive results.


For fans of: Youthful exuberance, incisive passing, clinical finishing, NWSL stardom

Japan has looked like the most complete team in the World Cup through four games, as their multi-year development plan is coming to fruition at exactly the right time. They can both out-possess their opponent and make them pay on the counter-attack, with a cutting passing ability that can collapse a defense with ease. Hina Sugita and Jun Endo are two NWSL stars fans in the U.S. might know well, and they also have two of the best kits left at the World Cup.

Hinata Miyazawa has a team-leading five goals for Japan at the World Cup. (Maja Hitij - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)


For fans of: Old frenemies, finding a way to win

As U.S. fans will likely rue for a while, Sweden keeps finding ways to win even when the going gets tough. They had their moments of dominance in the group stage, but in difficult matches they’ve stepped up in the margins in order to survive and advance. Against Japan, they’ll rely on their ability to unlock defenses on set pieces and perhaps another staunch performance from goalkeeper Zećira Mušović. Lina Hurtig joked she might get a tattoo of the goal-line technology that declared Sweden the winner in the Round of 16. There’s a lot to like about Sweden’s never-say-die attitude.

Quarterfinal Schedule

Thursday, Aug. 10

Spain vs. Netherlands, 9 p.m. ET (FOX)

Friday, Aug. 11

Japan vs. Sweden, 3:30 a.m. ET (FOX)

Saturday, Aug. 12

Australia vs. France, 3 a.m. ET (FOX)
England vs. Colombia, 6:30 a.m. ET (FOX)

Claire Watkins is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @ScoutRipley.