KASHIMA, Japan – The United States women’s team did what it took to advance to the quarterfinals at the Tokyo Olympics, but it wasn’t exactly the high-flying offensive monster it’s known for.
The American women reached the quarterfinals of the women’s soccer tournament after a 0-0 draw with Australia on Tuesday in a nearly empty stadium save for a group of Japanese schoolchildren.
The Americans are looking to win a fifth Olympic gold medal in Tokyo. They are also competing to become the first team to win at the Olympics after a World Cup title.
But they have made it difficult for them at the Tokyo Games. They lost to Sweden 3-0 in their opener, snapping a 44-game unbeaten streak, before bouncing back with a 6-1 win over New Zealand.
The draw with Australia secured the United States second place in Group G behind Sweden on goal difference. The Americans will face the winner of Group F, either the Netherlands or Brazil, depending on the latest results, in Yokohama on Friday.
“It was a tactical decision by (coach Vlatko Andonovski) to switch to the defense, a little more conservative, and really allow them to get impatient, play the game and give us back the game,” said US forward Alex Morgan. “Over time, I feel like both teams sat down and it became a matter of playing a professional game and moving on.”
The United States made five lineup changes after the last game against New Zealand, which was not unexpected given the tight competition schedule.
Morgan was back at the front, in place of Carli Lloyd, while Megan Rapinoe replaced Tobin Heath. Captain Becky Sauerbrunn and defender Kelley O’Hara also returned to the starting lineup.
Morgan escaped early in the game, but his strong shot was stopped by Australian goalkeeper Teagan Micah.
Morgan’s header in the 30th minute was canceled for offside, a decision that was confirmed by video review. The United States also had four goals disallowed for offside in the first half of the win over New Zealand.
In general, the Americans were upset again. Australia controlled possession for much of the game. On Megan Rapinoe’s free kick at 57, O’Hara’s pass missed and Morgan’s shot went over the goal, but again the Americans were offside.
“Going into this game, we entered with the mindset that the first goal was to win the game and the second goal was to put in a good professional performance and not get” a goal, Andonovski said. “Obviously we didn’t get the first one, but we got the second one, which was very important because it finally put us in the same place.”
Australia defeated New Zealand in their opener before falling to Sweden 4-2.
Australia coach Tony Gustavsson said it was clear from the start that the United States would change their tactics based on their training.
“What pleases me, from our point of view, is that I felt we were in control for much of the moment of the game, both with the ball and without it, and I like that,” Gustavsson said. “After the Sweden game, they asked me how we were going to approach the United States game and I said, ‘We will be true to who we are and hopefully if we play our A game, it will be good enough.
Australia made a late change to their starting lineup, replacing Caitlin Foord with Mary Fowler. Foord had a leg problem during warm-ups and it was decided to retain her as a precaution.
Children from schools around Kashima, a coastal city of about 67,000 people, attended the match, some with posters. When Rapinoe left in the second half, they clapped politely as he passed.
The Matildas were also likely to advance as those who finish third in the group, but they have to wait until the end of the game on Tuesday to determine their place. Gustavsson and his coaching staff stayed to watch the final game in Kashima between Canada and Great Britain in case the Matildas face either team in the knockout round.
With 12 teams competing in the tournament, the top two finishers in each of the three groups advance to the knockout phase, along with the top two finishers in third place.