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USWNT welcomes pressure of do-or-die group stage finale, says Megan Rapinoe

AUCKLAND - The United States are built to handle the pressure of their do-or-die final group stage match, veteran Megan Rapinoe said, with everything on the line against Portugal on Tuesday at the Women's World Cup.

The four-times champions have never exited in the group stage but may suffer that fate without a win or a draw against the World Cup debutantes, after beating Vietnam in the opener and settling for a 1-1 draw to the Netherlands.

It is hardly the position fans imagined the team would be in as they pursue an unprecedented third consecutive title.

"Everybody's like, 'Okay, we have to perform better and we have to get this result.' I mean, I think that that is something that just always gets passed down through the generations of this team," Rapinoe told reporters. "We go into these moments like, 'Hell yeah, this is exactly where we want to be.'"

The 2019 Ballon d'Or winner saw that spirit in the Americans' second-half display against the Netherlands, when a fired-up Lindsey Horan powered in a header to get the U.S. team the equalizer.

This year's performance has drawn comparisons to the United States' 2015 campaign, when they opened with a win against Australia and a scoreless draw against Sweden. They went on to beat Japan in the final.

"Being on the U.S. women's national team it kind of always feels like this," said Rapinoe. "This is just the pressure in general being at the World Cup — this moment is going to come no matter what. So it's not a bad thing, I don't think, for everyone to be like, 'Okay, let's like, you know, strap in and get ready for this game.'"

Playing in her fourth World Cup, this year's tournament undeniably carries more meaning for the 38-year-old forward, as she previously announced she would retire at the end of her club season. She has shown no objection to assuming the role of a mostly sideline mentor this time around to a young and less experienced team, after playing the on-field hero in 2019.

"We're unsatisfied with the way that we've played, but we know the areas that we can be better," said Rapinoe. "And I think there's some really simple fixes that we can do to put ourselves in a better position."

Asked her how her team should be judged if they were not to win it all, however, she was forced to confront the once-unthinkable. Rapinoe gave a long pause, letting the question linger in the air, before offering a response.

"I never thought about that."

(Reporting by Amy Tennery in Auckland; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

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