The Australian Women's Football Team has secured a historic first victory at a senior women's world event, defeating Greece 1-0 in the second of their group matches at the Athens 2004 Olympic Games in Heraklio this morning (Aust time).
A win in a match at three previous FIFA Women's World Cups and one Olympics had eluded the Australians. The result now puts the team in the box seat to advance to the quarterfinals, which would also be a first for such an event.
Australia dominated the game over the 53rd-ranked Greece, and created the chances to have won by a greater margin, but in the end, what proved to be the winning goal was scored by Heather Garriock within the half-hour.
Coach Adrian Santrac fielded an unchanged lineup to that which lost 1-0 to the highly-fancied Brazil three days previous for today's match against the hosts. It was indeed a must-win affair for both teams with the prize of a quarterfinal berth the likely prize to the victor.
The match started in dramatic fashion, a Greek error in the opening minute giving striker Sarah Walsh the ball in front of goal but a desperate tackle rescued the situation for the home side. Greece then caused the Aussies a scare three minutes later, Dimitra Panteletadou with a free strike on goal.
Australia soon took control of the play, dominating possession although not converting it into too many clear cut chances on goal against a determined host nation. Greece mainly relied on long range efforts in their pursuit of glory, otherwise creating little in front of goal.
Australia then claimed the lead in the 27th minute with a beautifully-executed move. A build-up down the right flank provided the ball to striker Sarah Walsh who turned inside her marker before slipping an inch-perfect low ball into the path of midfielder Garriock. The midfielder drove the ball into the roof of the net with a first-time left-foot strike from the edge of the penalty area.
The Aussies continued to hold the upper hand but only a couple of half chances followed before the break.
Added strikepower was brought on at the restart in the shape of Lisa De Vanna, with defender Rhian Davies making way. But before long, it was Greece who lifted a gear to enjoy a strong brief spell, getting first to the ball and pushing forward, to produce their best chances of the game for the equaliser from two corners.
Australia then reasserted their authority with what they thought to be their second goal but it was disallowed for offside in the 64th minute. A quick break saw the ball to De Vanna who shrugged off her opponent and laid off to the unmarked Gill Foster running in on goal. Foster's drive sailed through the grasp of the goalkeeper and De Vanna from close range made sure the ball found its way over the line, only to be ajudged offside in a questionable decision.
The game then opened up against a tiring Greece, with Australia able to get in on goal with greater frequency. Substitute Selin Kuralay went wide with a volley, Cheryl Salisbury missed the mark with a header, and Foster had her shot blocked by a defender. Long range attempts by Shipard, Kuralay, and Peters also bore no fruit.
In the 85th minute, a Garriock cross from the right came off the head of a defender, the loose ball raked back from outside the left post by Danielle Small but keeper Maria Giatrakis raced back to pounce on the shot just before it went over the line. Giatrakis continued her strong display for the match, diving to deny a De Vanna drive, and shortly after raced off her line to beat the pacy De Vanna to a through-ball.
De Vanna then laid the ball off for Kuralay in front of goal but her opponent made a fantastic challenge at full stretch to steer the ball away from the striker's boot. Kuralay then had a low strike deflected just wide of the post.
In stoppage time, Greece made a last-ditch effort for the equaliser, but Maria Lazarou decided to go for goal from a 30 metre freekick instead of providing the ball for her awaiting teammates, and then another shot from way out flew wide of the mark, before Australia were finally able to celebrate the final whistle.
Coach Santrac was pleased on all fronts, having recorded the milestone first win, and with a spot in the playoff stages all but sewn up.
"It almost guarantees us a quarterfinals berth, so in terms of this tournament, this result is very significant," said Santrac. "And beyond that, this is Australia's first win in a major tournament which is also very significant. The girls have done themselves proud and created history."
Santrac added, "Now we focusing already on our next game and securing the quarterfinals berth, and also what we need to do to progress further."
"Our performance was very solid today. In the first half we were a little indirect but we kept Greece out of the game. We made some changes at half-time and the first ten or twelve minutes of the second half, we took a while to get settled again. But then we stretched them and found a way through."
"A win is always welcome, but we let a real opportunity go by to improve our goal difference."
Captain Salisbury, the one member of the team to have played in every FIFA event in which Australia has played, was particularly happy the win had finally come.
"It seems so strange, because it's been such a long time coming," said Salisbury. "There were a couple of scary moments at the end, because we'd lost so many before right at the end, and there were a few heart flutters. But we're all smiles, and it was particularly good to share the moment with Di (Alagich) and Sacha (Wainwright) who've been there a long time too."
"It's great to have that win but also to have played well as well. We gelled as a team, which we didn't against Brazil, so to have that back is important."
In the other Group G match, favourites USA leapt to an outright lead with a valuable 2-0 victory over Brazil in Thessaloniki. After surviving a sensational Brazilian attacking display in the first half, the Americans scored two in the second half.
Nigeria's 1-0 win over Japan in Athens has really opened up the Group E race for quarterfinals berths. After upsetting group favourites Sweden on Wednesday, Japan have now completed their group matches, and have an anxious wait, with all three teams still very much in the running to advance.
Former Olympic silver medallists China could manage only a point from their match against Mexico, with a 1-1 draw in Patras, After copping a thumping against Germany in their opening game, China are now in danger of missing out on making the playoff stages, and with their group matches now over, must just wait to find out their fate.
Australia will travel back to Thessaloniki for their last group match against world number two USA, but only a shock upset win by Greece over Brazil will unseat them from finishing at least third in the group and therefore a quarterfinals spot.