The US was a post width away from exiting the Women’s World Cup at the group stage, but survived a late scare to earn a goalless draw against Portugal and reach the last 16. With the game hanging in the balance, substitute Ana Capeta had a glorious chance to earn Portugal a famous win in the closing stages, but her effort struck the post with goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher completely helpless. Defeat for the US – a team aiming for a third consecutive world title – would have ended its participation in the tournament. The Netherlands’ 7-0 win over Vietnam means the Dutch finish top of Group E on seven points, two ahead of a US team which will now likely play Sweden next on Sunday. It is the first time in the history of the competition that the US has won just one group stage match. On almost any other occasion, a 0-0 draw against the two-time defending champion would have been a cause for celebration for the World Cup debutant, but at full time many of Portugal’s players fell to their knees in tears as the reality of their exit began to sink in. When the dust settles and the pain subsides, Portugal’s players will feel confident the future of women’s soccer in the country is bright after pushing the Netherlands all the way in a narrow 1-0 defeat and then drawing with the US. For the US, however, there will be serious questions asked about the team’s performances in the group stages. The squad has 14 players appearing at a World Cup for the first time and the new-look team has struggled to find any kind of cohesion throughout the tournament. The performance against Portugal was the most disjointed the team had looked so far. “It’s tough to be second,” US forward Alex Morgan told FIFA after the match. “We wanted to go through first. This team gave everything, we just didn’t put the ball in the back of the net. “In the last few minutes we just had to hold it down – we had to get the result and move on.” Morgan admitted the team had been below its best so far in Australia and New Zealand, “but we’re looking forward to working on the improvements that we need to make and looking at the next round,” she added. The theme of this tournament has been the underdogs exceeding expectations. The gap between the top-ranked teams and others has closed significantly in the four years since the last Women’s World Cup. “What this World Cup shows now is that the women’s game is growing a lot and because of that you have these kinds of results that before the World Cup nobody believed would happen,” Portugal coach Francisco Neto told reporters. Portugal’s Jessica Silva was emotional when she told reporters: “I think we deserve much more. We were really close. It was our first participation, it’s true, but at same time I know that this team what we’ve done, it’s incredible.” On the brink Expectations were high going into the game and hundreds of US fans were in fine voice in Auckland, New Zealand as they marched towards Eden Park ahead of kick off. Chants and songs of “U-S-A,” “Oh When the Saints” and “America the Beautiful” filled the air as other fans danced in the ticket queues to a jazz band. But that enthusiasm wasn’t replicated by the American players on the pitch. The opening exchanges gave an early insight into how the game would unfold. It was Portugal which created the first chance of the match, but Silva – the hub of the Portuguese attack – dragged her effort wide of the far post. Portugal’s players were doing a brilliant job of disrupting the US, snapping into challenges and barely allowing them a second to settle on the ball. Morgan managed to fashion the US’ best chance of the first half, wriggling free on the touchline to cut the ball back for Lynn Williams, who had two stabs at the ball but prodded her second effort over the crossbar. The US players would no doubt have been aware of the Netherlands’ 5-0 lead over Vietnam at half time, which meant the Dutch leapfrogged them into first place in Group E. Despite getting more of a foothold in the game as the second half progressed, the US was still unable to craft any clear-cut opportunities in front of goal. Half-chances fell to Morgan and Williams, but Portugal was able to clear the ball without much trouble. Even as the game entered the closing stages, Portugal looked just as likely as the US – if not more so – to snatch a late winner. Some hesitant defending in the US’ back line allowed Capeta in behind as the game entered stoppage time, but to the relief of Americans everywhere her effort struck the foot of the post and bounced away to safety. “We had our World Cup on the line,” veteran Megan Rapinoe, who came on as a second-half substitute, admitted afterwards. “Of course those moments are going to be intense. “We’re thrilled to be going on to the next stage. That’s exactly what we wanted out of this match ultimately, is to have another one. On to the round of 16 – excited to see who we play.” England and Denmark progress In Group D, England progressed with a perfect record after hammering China 6-1 in what was by some margin the team’s best performance of this World Cup. Alessia Russo, Lauren Hemp and Lauren James gave England a commanding 3-0 lead at half time. Wang Shuang then pulled one back for China from the penalty spot in the second half, before James restored England’s three-goal lead with a sumptuous volley. Goals from Chloe Kelly and Rachel Daly completed the rout and England head coach Sarina Wiegman will likely be feeling much more confident about her team’s chances Down Under after such a dominant performance. Denmark joins England in the round of 16 after beating Haiti 2-0 thanks to goals from Pernille Harder and Sanne Troelsgaard. Haiti, another underdog that has impressed at this World Cup, joins China in departing the tournament. England will now face Nigeria in the round of 16 on Monday, while Denmark faces co-host Australia later the same day.