This World Cup has been strange, enough so that the U.S. going home in the Round of 16 feels like a surprise only because it took as long as penalty kicks to happen — and yet, because it was their most aggressive and complete game of the tournament so far, it was easy to trick yourself into thinking they’d live to play another day. Several of their shots had heat on them that was totally absent in pool play, and I thought Emily Sonnett played a hell of a game in place of Rose Lavelle. It’s a sad way to say goodbye to Megan Rapinoe and Julie Ertz, but maybe it’s what the younger generation needs to stay hungry instead of getting infected by the complacency so many other people seemed to feel. I can’t COUNT the number of times during the Netherlands-South Africa game that the announcers said that time slot SHOULD have gone to the Americans, and that this was SUPPOSED to be the US’s game. No, it was the game that went to the pool winner, and the U.S. had to earn it, not have it handed to them — which also gives the Netherlands zero credit. Ugh. Anyway, we have the Olympics next summer, and hopefully a team that’ll play with a chip on its shoulder.

Meanwhile, South Africa was incredible to watch and I’m so sad for them that they didn’t make it past the Dutch. Japan looks slick. I hope, by the time you read this, England has beaten Nigeria, although the Super Falcons have ALSO been so entertaining and great. Lest you think the fun’s gone out of it, only four nations have ever won a World Cup in the women’s game: The U.S., Germany, Japan, and Norway, and only Japan is still standing, which means there is a STRONG chance someone else can join the club. Let’s make some history, ladies!

[Photos: Chris Putnam, Isabel Infantes, Nigel Owen, Kevin Manning, Morgan Hancock/Shutterstock, Dave Lintott/lintottphoto/Shutterstock, Joe Serci/SPP/Shutterstock, CHINE NOUVELLE/SIPA/Shutterstock]