Australia edged closer to securing safe passage to the Olympic quarter-finals despite a brutal defeat to Sweden in which Sam Kerr’s missed penalty sensationally denied her an inspirational hat-trick.
Kerr was at her brilliant best, scoring goals either side of the halftime break, but came unstuck when presented with a chance to level the scores with 20 minutes to go – only to have her spot-kick spectacularly saved by Sweden’s Hedvig Lindahl, before the final dagger was slotted home to seal the 4-2 win.
But China’s wild 4-4 draw with Zambia has put the Matildas firmly in the box-seat for a quarter-final berth, as in addition to the top two teams from each group – the two highest third-placed teams also advance.
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With Australia safely on three points, it would take a series of mighty upsets – such as China defeating world No.4 the Netherlands – for Australia to fall outside of the safety zone, though it remains possible.
Saturday’s defeat at Saitama Stadium was tough to swallow for coach Tony Gustavsson, whose infectious positivity has permeated through his squad. His demeanour remained upbeat in the post-match press conference, but this one definitely stung.
“It must have been an entertaining game to watch, that’s for sure. Not so entertaining to lose, especially when you perform that good…” he began.
Gustavsson pointed to statistics after the match that he felt showed his team had been the better side who, if not for a 10-minute lapse in which they conceded twice to fall 3-2 behind, would’ve been worthy winners.
“I got all the players in a circle afterwards and said ‘don’t let this loss blind your performance,” he said.
“I looked at some stats with the help of our analyst afterwards – and the stats say we should’ve won the game.
“The amount of chances we created… the first hour is close to perfect, Sweden had one chance and scored on that one.”
That one chance had fallen to Fridolina Rolfo, who opened the scoring in the 20th minute and also put Sweden in front after 63 when she fired home a thunderous strike past Tegan Micah.
Rolfo was terrific for the world No.5, as was Sofia Jakobsson – who finished with two assists in a mighty performance pulling the strings for the Swedish attack.
A goal eight minutes from time to Stina Blackstenius put the result beyond doubt and did some damage to Australia’s confidence and goal differential leading into Tuesday’s final group game against the USA – where victory would remove all doubt about their quarter-final credentials.
But Australia were also highly impressive, with Kerr’s unfortunate missed penalty not clouding her body of work on the night.
Two goals, both headers, finishing off superb crosses by attacking partners-in-crime Kyah Simon and Caitlin Foord were just reward for a hard-working evening.
It might have felt like a win that had slipped through their fingers, but given Sweden’s 3-0 thrashing of the USA on the opening night of competition, Gustavsson had reason to be upbeat.
“(Sweden) dominated the US in the opening game, and we dominated them with the attack-minded confidence we played with,” he said.
“I’m really disappointed we didn’t take a point at least, but I am proud of that performance.”
Matildas explain why they won’t take a knee
For the second match in a row, the Matildas have opted against taking a knee before their Olympic clash with Sweden – but now we know why.
Tony Gustavsson’s starting XI again stood arm-in-arm on the edge of the centre circle while their opponents, Sweden in this case, dropped to one know to protest racism in the moments before kick-off.
The Matildas, who posed with an Aboriginal flag before their victory over New Zealand, released a statement to clarify their position on the Black Lives Matter movement — saying their “gesture is a show of unity and togetherness for all Australians”.
“In standing together, we want to spark the conversation for us all to work towards a more just and representative society for all Australians,” said Matildas goalkeeper and Noongar woman Lydia Williams.
Added Kyah Simon: “We want to do our part to make it better for the next generation.”