Midfielder Kristine Lilly scored a spectacular first-half goal, but the U.S. Women’s National Team allowed a late equalizer with just eight minutes left to tie Australia, 1-1, today at Kaftanzolglio Stadium in the USA’s final opening round match of the 2004 Olympics.
The draw gives the U.S. seven points and first place in Group G, meaning they will face Group E third place finisher Japan in the quarterfinals on Friday, August 20 at 6 p.m. (local) / 11 a.m. (ET) live on MSNBC and Telemundo. The USA finished group play with a 2-0-1 record, the same opening round record as in the 1996 and 2000 Olympics. In Japan, the USA faces perhaps the most underrated team in the tournament and a dangerous quarterfinal opponent. The USA and Japan have tied the last three times the teams have played.
The first 15 minutes of the match saw little in the way of scoring chances for either team as Australia came out in a 4-5-1 formation with speedy forward Sarah Walsh up top. Central defenders Joy Fawcett and Cat Reddick played fine games for the Americans, diffusing almost everything Australia threw at the USA in the first half. The USA played in a 4-4-2, but were without two regular starters as forward Cindy Parlow filled in for the suspended Abby Wambach and defender Heather Mitts replaced Christie Rampone at right back.
The game’s first shot didn’t come until the 16th minute, when U.S. midfielder Shannon Boxx smacked a low shot wide right from 25 yards out after a clever touch back from Parlow.
The U.S. broke through in the 19th minute and U.S. captain Julie Foudy was right in the middle of the action. She got possession on right flank before beating a defender on an inside cut and tried to cross. Her service was blocked, but Mia Hamm ran the ball down on the right side of the penalty and hit a quick cross that Parlow got a foot on, but her close-range spinning shot was well-saved be Australia goalkeeper Cassandra Kell. Australia failed to clear the ball though and it dropped to Foudy at right elbow of box. She then lofted a perfect far post chip to the streaking Lilly, who held off a defender and hit a sliding left-footed volley off Kell’s left hand and into the roof of the net from three yards out. The goal broke a 17-game scoreless streak for Lilly, but it was her ninth score in world championship competition and the 96th goal of her career.
Parlow had a good look at goal in the 40th minute, running onto a slick pass from Mia Hamm inside the six yard box, but her shot from a sharp angle skipped wide right as Australia defender Cheryl Salisbury crashed into her.
Australia’s best chance came in the 42nd minute when Walsh ran onto a long ball and got behind the defense, but the U.S. back line quickly recovered and Walsh’s cross sailed through the goal mouth without finding a target.
The U.S. had a great chance to make it 2-0 when Lilly won back a ball after being dispossessed on the left flank, took a touch forward and sent in a perfect cross to the middle of the box, where Foudy snapped a header just inches wide of the left post.
Walsh, who gave the USA trouble all night with her running on counter-attacks, put a scare into the U.S. defense in the 58th minute, running after a ball that Joy Fawcett had head backed to Briana Scurry, but the U.S. goalkeeper scoop up the ball before Walsh crashed into her.
Hamm in turn gave the Aussie back line fits with her running in the defensive third and forced Kell into numerous hurried clearances with her feet.
Australia had more of the game in the last 30 minutes as the U.S. team lost some of the rhythm it had early on, and the Matlidas fired four shots on the goal in the latter part of the match. Australia midfielder Joanne Peters had a good look at goal in the 62nd minute as she tried to lob Scurry with a 20-yard shot, but the U.S. goalkeeper back-tracked to make an easy save.
Sixteen-year-old midfielder Sally Shipard had a good chance in the 65th minute, crushing a low shot through traffic from 25 yards out that Scurry swallowed up and then the U.S. goalkeeper beat Walsh to a dangerous through ball just one minute later.
Second-half substitute Lisa de Vanna forced Fawcett to clear for a corner kick and on the resulting set piece the ball was cleared out to sub Gillian Foster, who ripped yet another low shot directly at Scurry in the 68th minute.
Australia finally got the equalizer when Peters cut in front of Foudy on a cross from Heather Garriock to head a looping shot over Scurry and under the crossbar in the 82nd minute.
The Americans pushed for the go-ahead goal in the remaining regulation time behind the fresh legs of second-half subs Heather O’Reilly, Lindsay Tarpley and Angela Hucles, but could not break through. Tarpley created the USA’s last good scoring opportunity in the 89th minute, fighting for a ball at the end line and crossing into the middle of the box where Parlow had a small opening, but hit her shot over the crossbar.
In other Group G action, Brazil thrashed Greece 7-0 to finish second in Group G. In its quarterfinal match, Brazil will play Mexico, who fell 2-0 to Germany. Germany easily won Group F and will play Group E runner-up Nigeria. Sweden rebounded from a surprise 1-0 loss to Japan and came back from a goal down to defeat Nigeria 2-1 and win Group E on the head-to-head tiebreaker after each had the same points, goal difference and number of goals scored.
If Sweden had lost they would have been out of the tournament, but instead they used goals in the 68th and 73rd minutes to defeat the Super Falcons, meaning that in a span of five minutes, the USA’s quarterfinal opponent went from China (who would have qualified had Sweden lost), to Sweden (who would have played the USA had they tied) to Japan (who was forced into the bottom of the group as they scored just one goal to Sweden and Nigeria’s two each). Sweden will face Australia in the other quarterfinal.
China, which was upset by Canada in the quarterfinals of the 2003 Women’s World Cup, was eliminated after its 8-0 loss to Germany and 1-1 tie with Mexico, and will have three years to re-build before they host the 2007 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Greece bowed out of the tournament with three losses and without scoring a goal while allowing 11.