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ATHENS 2004

Australia Happily Takes a Tie With U.S.

Matildas' coach says 1-1 draw against successful program gives women's soccer a boost at home.

August 18, 2004|Grahame L. Jones | Times Staff Writer

THESSALONIKI, Greece — Seventeen years and 15 defeats later, Australia finally has something to show for playing the United States.

Tuesday night, the Matildas, as the Aussie women's soccer team is called, came from behind to tie the U.S., 1-1, at almost-empty Kaftanzoglio Stadium as both teams advanced to the Olympic quarterfinals.

"Obviously, to play against the second-best team in the world today and the country that has been the best team over the last 15 years, certainly in women's football, it's an incredible result," Australia Coach Adrian Santrac said.

"It gives credibility to the game in Australia and gives us a huge boost."

The U.S. will play Japan and Australia will play Sweden in Friday's quarterfinals, their opponents determined by Sweden's 2-1 defeat of Nigeria in Volos, a result that knocked onetime power China out of the tournament.

In the other quarterfinals, world champion Germany, a 2-0 winner over Mexico in Athens, will play Nigeria, and Mexico will play Brazil, which knocked Greece out of the Olympics with a 7-0 victory in Patras.

"I believe in the last 10 minutes of the game we went from playing China, Mexico, Sweden and Nigeria and I understand we're now playing Japan," U.S. Coach April Heinrichs said as the various quarterfinal permutations changed with each goal scored elsewhere Tuesday night.

Heinrichs indicated that the U.S. players were not pleased at being tied but were not overly troubled by it either.

"I think, on the whole, we're dissatisfied with our own performance," she said. "The game itself was insignificant. We had already secured advancement.

"I'm optimistic that, in the knockout phase, we'll play with a little less caution and a little more aggressive mentality.

"Japan has proved itself already to be a very worthy opponent in every respect. The last couple of times we've played them, they have been close games. They're athletic, they're technical, they're efficient, they're tactically gifted and they're playing with a lot of confidence."

The Australian players came off the field celebrating as if they had won the match, not surprising considering that they had been outscored, 58-9, in the previous games against the U.S. dating to 1987.

Recently, though, the gap has closed considerably and Australia actually led the U.S., 1-0, at halftime before losing, 3-1, in Minnesota in an Olympic warm-up match in July.

Santrac said his players had learned "bits and pieces" from that encounter, most significantly that they were able to play with the Americans.

"We're very, very confident in what we're able to achieve," he said.

The U.S. took the lead 18:35 into the match when Julie Foudy sent a cross in from the top right corner of the penalty area and Kristine Lilly, sprinting in at the far post, side-footed a volley into the roof of the Australian net.

It was the 96th goal of Lilly's world-record 279-game international career.

The U.S. had the better of the play in the first half, but the Australians, boosted by a cry familiar from the Sydney 2000 Olympics -- "Aussie! Aussie! Aussie! Oi! Oi! Oi!" -- gained the upper hand in the second 45 minutes.

"I could feel the momentum shift," Santrac said. "We were talking on the bench and we felt like we were coming" more and more into the game.

That feeling turned into reality at the 81:51 mark when Australia's Heather Garriock sent in a cross from the right flank and Joanne Peters outjumped Foudy to send a looping header over goalkeeper Briana Scurry and into the upper right corner of the U.S. net.

"I think it was a fantastic header, very well taken," Santrac said. "It was a good aerial cross, a left-footed in-swinger, and Peters challenged for it beautifully. Whether it was intended or not, it was a great goal."

One that ended a 17-year winning streak.

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