FOOTBALL: Australia has earned its passage through to the knockout stages of the Olympic Games women’s football tournament after defeating Zimbabwe 6-1 at the Fonte Nova Arena this evening.
Goals from Lisa De Vanna, Clare Polkinghorne, Alanna Kennedy, Kyah Simon and Michelle Heyman (two) underlined Australia’s dominance – its breakthrough win of these Olympic Games arriving at the most crucial juncture.
The discrepancy in quality between the two sides was considerable at times, though Australia was professional throughout and occasionally outstanding - unquestionable value for its biggest ever Olympics win.
Australia will learn the identity of its quarter-final opponent at the conclusion of this evening’s Group E and Group G matches, but a marquee clash against the hosts or tournament favourite United States awaits.
“I thought we did well for a large period of the game, maybe the last 25 minutes we started to rush things and panic a little bit,” said coach Alen Stajcic after the match.
“Our finishing deteriorated in that last 25 minutes when we were going for that seventh goal, but at the end of the day we scored six good goals.
“We dominated the game with possession and chances and, look, we’re happy to go through to the next round and from now on, it’s a level playing field, doesn’t matter what position you finish, it’s life and death for every team.
“We’re in the quarter-finals, we’re happy with that and we go there with a fit and healthy team which is the most important.”
It was a case of lightning striking twice for the fast-starting Australians.
As was the case three days ago in São Paulo, Australia settled their nerves with an early goal, this time there was barely a minute on the clock before De Vanna found the back of the net.
Emily van Egmond, Elise Kellond-Knight and Katrina Gorry combined well, the latters expert centre left De Vanna with little else to do but score her second Olympic Games goal some twelve years after her first.
De Vanna’s co-captain Polkinghorne doubled Australia’s advantage on 15 minutes with an equally effortless finish.
Kellond-Knight provided her fellow Queenslander with an inch-perfect corner that Polkinghorne simply side footed home on the volley centremetres from the goal line.
Kennedy’s goal on 37 minutes was a near copy - another expert Kellond-Knight corner falling perfectly on to the head of the 21-year-old from western Sydney.
Simon resumed Australia’s open-season early in the second half, her delightful first-time finish from Steph Catley’s through ball re-establishing Australia’s dominance, before substitute Heyman netted a quick-fire double soon after her introduction.
News of Canada leading Germany 2-1 in the simultaneous Group F fixture had Australia scrambling for a seventh goal, which would have secured the team second place in their group and an alternate quarterfinal path.
It wasn’t to be, however, and the team coach is not fussed at the journey to the podium that is now in front of his charges.
“We just needed to win today to get through,” said Stajcic.
“We knew if we won by one goal we would be through, we weren’t thinking about scoring more goals than Germany.
“When we heard the result three-quarters of the way through the game obviously we were pushing hard to get that seventh goal.
“We just couldn’t capitalise on some of those chances late in the game but for us, for me, it doesn’t matter.
“If you had have given me 6-1 before the day I would have been happy, because I know that it gets us through to the quarter-finals and it doesn’t matter which position you finish on the table, you’re at the Olympic Games, you have to play the best teams at some point.
“We know we’re in the best eight now and we can’t wait for the next game.”