The Australian Women's Football Team have bowed out of the Olympic Games, going down 2-1 in their quarterfinal against world number four nation Sweden played in Volos this morning Australian time.
Down two goals in the first half to the experienced Sweden, Australia put in a valiant fightback with the introduction of striker Lisa De Vanna off the bench ten minutes before half-time, and continued to take the game to their more illustrious opponents throughout the second half. Reducing the deficit by one through a De Vanna strike eleven minutes from full-time then set up a thrilling finish to the contest, but the 16th-ranked Australia was unable to break through again to send the game into extra-time.
The final whistle signalled the end of this Olympic campaign for the Australians, but along the way, they had created some significant firsts. On the way to advancing past the group stages for the first time in either an Olympics or Women's World Cup, Australia had also posted their first victory in a senior world event (beating Greece 1-0), and taken their first ever point off superstars USA in any competition.
It was all one-way traffic for the opening half-hour of today's do-or-die encounter, Sweden clearly dominating the possession, but although they pushed forward in attack, for much of the time, the passes within the danger area were not effective, and the Australian defence held firm.
However, the Swedes were to prove at their most dangerous on set pieces, and in the 15th minute, were unlucky not to score. A Therese Sjoegran corner kick was punched out by the Australian goalkeeper only as far as striker Victoria Svensson, who from an acute angle on the right, unleashed a first-time volley which thumped against the crossbar.
The only chance to Australia in this period came in the 23rd minute, Rhian Davies switching the ball to Heather Garriock lurking to the left of goal. The midfielder then squared the ball inside to Danielle Small but her first-time attempt skewed off her boot well wide of the mark.
The Swedes then found their feet and burst through with two goals within five minutes by the half-hour mark.
Australia's midfield was stripped of the ball deep into its own half, and Hanna Ljungberg cut a swathe toward goal. With two defenders backing off her, the star striker saw the opportunity to let fly from 16 metres on the left, placing a clinical low shot past the keeper and inside the far post in the 25th minute.
A long ball toward goal was then to cause problems in the Australian defence, and from the ensuing corner came goal number two. From the right, the corner kick was floated deep past the far post from where Svensson headed the ball back in, picking out the unmarked Sara Larsson 8 metres in front of goal who looped her header straight over the goalkeeper.
In the 35th minute, Joanne Peters won the ball off Sweden and ran at goal but her drive from the left edge of the 18-yard box flew wide.
Australian Coach Adrian Santrac decided to deal his usual attacking card in the pacy De Vanna a little earlier than usual, the Western Australian brought into the fray in the 36th minute. As has become the usual pattern, her presence ignited a spark into the Australian attack immediately. Twisting and turning, De Vanna shrugged off two defenders before meeting a wall of three opponents on the edge of the 18-yard, but the ball fell loose to Garriock whose first time effort flew over.
Another couple of half-chances to Australia before the half-time whistle served notice to Sweden of what to expect in the following 45 minutes.
No surprise that Australia were fired up to get themselves back in the contest upon resumption of play, pushing forward from the off. Sarah Walsh and De Vanna both caused headaches for the Swedish defence who in turn were also determined to keep a clean sheet. Meanwhile, Sweden were not about to sit back and defend their lead, and also looked to score another to seal the win.
A Ljungberg header was not far from the target, before captain Malin Mostroem almost caught out the Australians with a cross cum shot from near the right sideline, over the goalkeeper and hitting the top of the crossbar.
Australia then hit back again with a flurry of attack. In the 56th minute, a through-ball up the centre saw De Vanna with defender Hanna Marklund locked in battle for the loose ball, but De Vanna lost the ball behind her after Marklund fell to the floor, allowing the goalkeeper in to pounce on the ball. Soon after, a Gill Foster corner was met by the head of captain Cheryl Salisbury, but was deflected over, and Garriock's shot from the ensuing corner was saved by keeper Caroline Joensson.
Sweden's Ljungberg got in behind the Australian defence in the 65th minute but her outstretched attempt flew well wide of the target. Four minutes later, a neat flowing Australian move up the middle saw the ball laid to Walsh but desperate Swedish defence twice closed down the striker. Australia's twin strikers continued the pressure with Sweden happy to use any means whatsoever to get the ball away.
A shot by Sweden's Anna Sjoestroem went wide in the 79th minute, and the resultant goalkick was to help set up Australia's goal. The long high ball was challenged by a crowded centre circle, with an Australian getting the all-important strong header toward goal. The ball was chased down by De Vanna, whose speed left Sweden's last defender in her wake, and with Joensson slow to come off her line, the teenager made no mistake, slotting it low past the keeper.
Rewarded for their persistence, the goal set the Australians alight, now on a new mission to get the equaliser and keep their campaign alive. Immediately the Australians had another two opportunities which were eventually scrambled away by the Swedish backline.
A Sacha Wainwright ball up the left to De Vanna was cut back deep to the unmarked Kuralay, but her long-range strike was shut down. The loose ball found its way to Garriock, but again from distance, Australia were unable to break through.
An 87th minute freekick wide on the right saw Garriock feed Walsh at the near post, her header going wide. Throughout the three minutes of added time, Australia kept up the pressure, but their final pass couldn't get through past the wall of Swedish defence.
The other three quarterfinals also each saw the favourite emerge victorious to go through to the semifinals. World champions Germany had to come from behind to defeat an enthralling Nigeria 2-1 with two late goals. The Germans will now meet USA who today beat Japan 2-1, although the Asian team had equalised at 1-1 before the Americans delivered the killer punch. Sweden now take on Brazil in their semifinal clash, the South Americans far outclassing Mexico today to win 5-0.