The Qantas Matildas kicked off their Women's World Cup campaign with a disappointing 2-1 loss to Russia this evening in Los Angeles.
Australia conceded the winning goal in the last few minutes of an evenly-fought match after surviving a penalty kick earlier in the second half. The Qantas Matildas had taken the lead in the first half, but gave away an equaliser in the very next minute to the 11th ranked Russia.
The Australians (ranked 15) started brightly in the first quarter hour, Russia scarcely with possession in a frantic start to the match. However, as the half wore on, Russia started to look stronger on the ball, displaying precise passing, and at times put the Australian defence under pressure when they did reach the attacking third. Australia never stopped looking to attack, but some neat lead-up work was not always matched by the choice of option when in sight of goal.
In the 38th minute, Australia claimed the lead. Rhian Davies played a long searching ball forward from very deep on the right which was gratefully taken down by Danielle Small before sliding in for the shot which bounced off the bottom of the right post. The loose ball was pounced upon by Kelly Golebiowski to hit low into the back of the net.
However the celebrations were cut immediately short when Russia received a freekick wide out on the right. Defender Dianne Alagich attempted to clear Marina Saenko's freekick, but the ball deflected off the Australian for an own goal.
The next minute, Australia had a top opportunity to reclaim the lead when Heather Garriock played a piercing ball to find Kelly Golebiowski, but the striker's first-time attempt sailed over. A Russian freekick, again from the boot of Saenko, was fingertipped over by Australian keeper Cassandra Kell just before half-time.
Three minutes after the break, Kell was called upon again to make a fantastic carbon copy save from a Saenko freekick.
There was less attacking verve for the first half hour of the second half from either team, with play often bogged down in midfield. Australia held a good share of the possession, but was unable to convert that into more effective play.
However, in the 72nd minute, Russia was awarded a penalty after Tal Karp was ajudged to have fouled striker Natalia Barbachina in the box. Playmaker Elena Fomina failed to give her side the lead when her penalty kick thumped against the crossbar. The miss sparked Australia into attack, but they were left unrewarded.
The attack then lifted with chances at both ends, Garriock and Golebiowski combining for Australia, and Formina for the Russians. The 89th minute then produced the winner for Russia. Formina made up for her penalty miss and capped an otherwise fine performance when she collected the ball 30 metres out, took a couple of touches before unleashing a cracking drive which flew into the back of the net via a cruel deflection off defender Cheryl Salisbury.
The gutsy Australians had four minutes of added time to hit back and surged forward in a last-ditch effort but were unable to reel back the lost point.
"We did all the running and took the game to Russia, but unfortunately didn't get the result we deserved," said National Coach Adrian Santrac. "I think the result ended up flattering the Russians - the scoreline was not a reflection of the game."
Santrac added of Australia's second half performance, "The emotion and adrenalin got in the way. At the times we needed to control things, the emotions tended to make us do more than we should have. In the second half we were forcing our domination and exposed ourselves and got caught on the break.
The Qantas Matildas now need to regroup for their next encounter against Group D favourites China, who in the later match tonight in Los Angeles, defeated Ghana 1-0 to claim the three points.