United States 1, Australia 1
The U.S. women's soccer team needed only a tie Tuesday, and that's all it got -- settling for a draw against a team it had always beaten.
The Americans tied Australia 1-1, ending a perfect record against the Matildas that lasted 17 years. But the result was good enough to clinch first place in the U.S. group, setting up a quarterfinal match against Japan on Friday.
"This team never likes to tie or lose," said captain Julie Foudy, who assisted on the U.S. goal but was the culprit on defense when Australia answered. "It's disappointing in that sense, but we're moving on to the quarterfinals. We're first in our group. We'll put some things together and make sure for the quarters we play two halves."
The mixed feelings were reflected throughout the locker room and in the words of Coach April Heinrichs, who said she was dissatisfied her team lost control of the game in the second half. The coach wants to see more bite now that do-or-die time is here.
"I'm optimistic that in the knockout phase we'll play with a little less caution," Heinrichs said. "And a little more aggressive mentality."
It will help that one of the team's most aggressive players, Abby Wambach, will return for the quarterfinals after serving a one-game suspension for rough play. Wambach has scored 16 goals in her last 17 games, and replacement Cindy Parlow wasn't able to command the same attention or finish her scoring chances. As a result, Mia Hamm was constantly double-teamed.
"I couldn't hit the broad side of the barn today," Parlow said.
The Americans dominated the first half, taking the lead on Kristine Lilly's goal in the 19th minute. Australia initially played with one forward and didn't have a shot on goal in the first 60 minutes, but the game changed when Coach Adrian Santrac inserted a second attacker in the 62nd.
The Australians pressured constantly the rest of the game, and the Americans couldn't adjust. The result was Joanne Peters's tying goal in the 82nd minute, achieving a result that broke a 15-game Aussie losing streak to the United States dating from the teams' first meeting in 1987.
"To achieve this result is incredible," Santrac said. "It gives credibility to the game in Australia."
Australia qualified for the quarterfinals with the tie, although they would have advanced anyway because of Brazil's win over Greece. The Matildas will play World Cup runner-up Sweden in Volos on Friday.
The U.S. women had clinched a spot in the quarterfinals with 3-0 and 2-0 wins over Greece and Brazil, but their first-place finish guarantees they will avoid an extra road trip. They will stay in Thessaloniki to prepare for Japan, which will enter the game with five days' rest in an unusual Olympic format that had some teams playing fewer first-round games than others.
"They'll be rusty," Foudy said. "You know, like the Lakers, they take five days off and don't know what to do with themselves."