Soccer-Megan Rapinoe's World Cup career comes to tearful end


Soccer Football - FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023 - Round of 16 - Sweden v United States - Melbourne Rectangular Stadium, Melbourne, Australia - August 6, 2023 Megan Rapinoe of the U.S. reacts after missing a penalty during the penalty shootout REUTERS/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake

(Reuters) - Megan Rapinoe did not get the Women's World Cup farewell she wanted on Sunday, a penalty that sailed over the crossbar the last international play by one of the United States' most decorated players.

American soccer's charismatic figurehead was sent on as a substitute in extra time but the last-16 game against old foes Sweden ended 0-0 before the Swedes won the penalty shootout 5-4.

Rapinoe was of three American players to miss her spot-kick.

"This is the balance to the beautiful side of the game. I think it can be cruel and (it was) just not our day," Rapinoe told Fox Sports.

"I still just feel really grateful and joyful."

Renowned for her reliability as a penalty taker, Rapinoe said missing one in the final moment of her career felt like "a sick joke".

She tearfully embraced her coach on the pitch before linking up with her team mates one last time while the Sweden players celebrated to Abba's "Dancing Queen".

"I've loved playing for this team and playing for this country. It's been an honour," she said.

Rapinoe won the Golden Boot, Golden Ball and Ballon d'Or for her role in the United States' victorious 2019 World Cup campaign and her personality and activism off the pitch took her star to new heights in a country where not many female soccer players have achieved household fame.

"I've always tried to play the game the right way and to go about things the right way," she told reporters in Auckland.

"I've always tried to use whatever platform we have - and this platform obviously was built long before I got here."

The 38-year-old Rapinoe played few minutes at her fourth World Cup, embracing a role largely as a mentor to a young and inexperienced U.S. team after playing a key part in helping the team win the 2015 and 2019 world crowns.

Her most memorable moment, however, came in 2011 when she sent a laser-like cross to Abby Wambach in the quarter-final against Brazil to set up what was voted the greatest goal in the history of the tournament.

'THE PLATFORM'

Rapinoe plans to finish her club season with National Women's Soccer League side OL Reign before retiring and shows no signs of retreating from public life after a career spent championing social causes.

She was a leading voice for the U.S. players in their pay equity fight against their federation in 2019, the effects of which were still being felt at the 2023 tournament, as teams from around the globe fought for better pay and conditions.

Looking back at the 2019 tournament, Rapinoe saw her on-field achievements as being inextricably entwined with her advocacy.

"It was almost like a mandatory upping of our level to be able to match everything that we were saying off the field," said Rapinoe.

"Without the winning, you don't get all these microphones and without the winning, you don't get the platform. Without the winning, you don't get the media, you don't get the eyes, you don't get the fans."

She was famously the target of Republican former U.S. President Donald Trump's angry tweets during the 2019 tournament, after footage emerged of her saying she would not visit the White House if her team won.

Rapinoe also earned a public rebuke from U.S. Soccer when she knelt during the playing of the national anthem in 2016 in solidarity with NFL player Colin Kaepernick.

In 2022, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest United States' civilian honour, alongside gymnastics Olympic gold medallist Simone Biles.

"Being a women's professional athlete, we sort of know what the injustices are, at least that we have felt. And so I think it makes it easy for us to then be an ally in other ways," Rapinoe said.

"That's like the real legacy, I think the most important legacy, of this team."

(Reporting by Amy Tennery, editing by Ed Osmond)

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