The Matildas have qualified for the Athens 2004 Olympic Games after soundly defeating hosts Fiji 7-0 today in the last match of the Oceania Women's Olympic Qualifying Tournament at Govind Park in Ba.
Australia finished in first position, three points ahead of Papua New Guinea, and therefore cement their place in the ten-team Athens 2004 Olympic women's football event.
The Matildas were never in doubt of claiming the victory, clearly the dominant team from the opening minutes. Youngster Lana Harch was top scorer for the day with a hattrick, whilst fellow striker April Mann snared a double.
Australia fielded a new lineup and also took the opportunity to work on their attacking game, concentrating on building effective attacks rather than taking perhaps a more direct route to goal. The focus was on good passing combinations and smart movement off the ball. Via this route, the Matildas scored five first half goals against a Fiji who got numbers behind the ball and remained disciplined and determined throughout the match, whilst also looking to push forward whenever possible.
Despite the sapping heat and extreme humidity, the Matildas posted a quick pair on the scoreboard within five minutes, Harch the scorer on both occasions with two sharp finishes, her first ever senior international goals. In the 3rd minute, a sweet sweeping move resulted in a Rhian Davies cross from the right which was flicked on in the box, allowing Harch in for the first-time drive low past the goalkeeper from 16 metres. Two minutes later, a Leah Blayney ball found Harch with time to control the ball before thumping it into the roof of the net from the edge of the box.
On the quarter-hour mark, Harch was close to completing a triple from a chip over the defence by Karla Reuter on the left. From an acute angle on the left, Harch attempted to place the ball just inside the far post, but keeper Paulini Ragani dived well to parry the ball, leaving Mann to rise to the high bouncing ball and head home at close range. Mann scored again four minutes later, picked out with a long ball from deep right by Davies, and successful on the half-volley from 16 metres.
Australia stretched the lead to 5-0 in the 33rd minute when Gill Foster, today pushed forward into the attacking trio, scored her first ever international goal. Foster cut inside from the left and cracked her drive from the edge of the box into the top right corner of goal.
Harch recorded her hattrick four minutes after the interval from a Foster ball which she sent on target from 14 metres on the left.
The home crowd cheered loudly as Fiji recorded their best period of the game midway through the second half, bustling their way forward in attack on four occasions but never got within sight of goal as the Australian defence cleaned up any danger.
Substitute Selin Kuralay was unlucky not to claim a goal in the 71st minute, her long range strike crashing against the crossbar. A goal six minutes later put away by sub Kate Gill after a parried Davies shot was disallowed for offside.
The tiring Matildas got a little bogged down in the final ten minutes against a still spirited Fiji defence, until goal number seven was scored in the last minute of play. A well-floated ball by Blayney deep on the right found Gill lurking at the far post for a clean finish from 6 metres.
National Coach Adrian Santrac was happy with the performance and naturally delighted to now be heading to the Athens Olympic Games. "We had a job to do to qualify for the Olympics, and we've achieved what we wanted to achieve, and now we're going to Athens."
"Today the conditions, especially in the first half, were very difficult. There were specific things we were looking at today, working on certain aspects of our game to benefit from the game today, rather than pumping in a lot of goals. We were looking to ensure our goal of performing at a level of where we want to be, and from that perspective, we're generally pleased."
"As for our chances in Athens, we've got a lot more to do between now and the Olympics. We're building, we're developing and improving, and hopefully we'll do well."
Australia are the seventh team to confirm their place for August's Olympic Games ten-nation women's football lineup. They join European leading pair Germany and Sweden, Brazil as South America's top team, USA and surprise team Mexico who emerged finalists from the CONCACAF region two days ago, plus hosts Greece. Africa completes its qualification process later this month, whilst Asia's two representatives will be decided in April.
Athens 2004 will be Australia's second participation in the Olympic Games women's football event since the sport was first accepted into the Olympic family for Atlanta 1996. Australia made its Olympic debut as host nation at the Sydney 2000 Olympics, narrowly missing the semifinals and placing 7th from a field of eight.
This is the first time a separate regional qualification process has been employed for Olympic women's football, the lineup previously being the top placed teams from the previous year's Women's World Cup.