The USWNT redeemed its heartbreaking 2016 Olympics loss with a steely performance through penalty kicks in Tokyo

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The USWNT redeemed its heartbreaking 2016 Olympics loss with a steely performance through penalty kicks in Tokyo
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USWNT players celebrate surviving penalty kicks at the Tokyo Olympics.
USWNT players celebrate surviving penalty kicks at the Tokyo Olympics. Francois Nel/Getty Images
  • The US Women's National Team survived the first stage of the knockout round at the Tokyo Olympics.

  • After regulation and 30 minutes of overtime, the USWNT bested the Netherlands 4-2 in penalty kicks.

  • The steely performance comes after the team lost in the same round in PKs at the 2016 Rio Olympics.

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The US Women's National Team was in this position before.

For most of the soccer stars who traveled with Team USA to Tokyo, the heartbreak of the 2016 Rio Olympics is forever etched in their minds. With a chance at making history on the line, the reigning World Cup champions and gold-medal favorites lost in penalty kicks against Sweden in the quarterfinal match - the first game of the knockout stage - and headed home without any hardware in tow.

USWNT players react to their loss to Sweden in penalty kicks at the 2016 Olympics.
USWNT players react to their loss to Sweden in penalty kicks at the 2016 Olympics. Celso Junior/Getty Images

Not this time. In a Tokyo Olympics quarterfinal contest laden with déjà vu for the US players and their fans, the USWNT survived penalty kicks against the Netherlands - their 2019 World Cup final foes - to advance to the semifinal of the Olympic tournament for the first time in nearly a decade.

Goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher added on to her already stellar performance in the final moments of Friday's contest. She opened up penalty kicks by extending for a masterful save against Vivianne Miedema - an international superstar who is, as of the Tokyo tournament, the record holder for most goals within a single Olympic Games.

Rose Lavelle was the first to step to the penalty spot for the Americans, and the 26-year-old kept her composure to slot the ball into the back of the net. Alex Morgan was up next for the USWNT, and she coolly followed suit to put her squad up 2-1.

Dutch defender Stefanie van der Gragt nearly missed the third shot for the Netherlands, but her shot ricocheted off the post and into the far-side webbing to tie the score. Christen Press then redeemed herself for a brutal miss in 2016 with a made penalty kick this time around, and then the spotlight was back on Naeher.

The 33-year-old guessed correctly for the third time in the match and the second time during PKs to block a bullet from Aniek Nouwen:

Alyssa Naeher.
Alyssa Naeher saves the penalty kick against the Netherlands' Aniek Nouwen. Francois Nel/Getty Images

From there, it was up to Megan Rapinoe - the calm, cool, and collected pink-haired forward who led the USWNT to its 2019 World Cup victory. She stepped to the line, placed her ball, and rocketed a shot into the upper 90 of the right side of the goal to keep the United States on its path to gold.

And she celebrated in a similarly cool fashion.

The USWNT will quickly shift its focus to its semifinal match, where the team will face a familiar foe in Team Canada. Many American stars play alongside Canadian national teamers for their National Women's Soccer League clubs, but they'll set amiability to the side in pursuit of gold - and history.

Vlatko Andonovski's squad is set to take the next step on its journey to becoming the first team to earn gold directly after winning the World Cup, with a kickoff for the USWNT vs. Canada on Monday at 4 a.m. ET.

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