Australia beat GB to reach Olympic football semis despite White treble

The teenage substitute Mary Fowler and Chelsea striker Sam Kerr were the heroes as Australia earned a place in the Olympic semi-finals with a 4-3 defeat of Team GB in extra time.

Manchester City’s Ellen White had scored twice to pull Team GB from behind against the Matildas, after the former Tottenham defender Alanna Kennedy had given them the lead, but an 89th minute goal from Kerr took the game beyond 90 minutes. Teagan Micah saved a Caroline Weir penalty moments before the 18-year-old Fowler put Australia ahead and Kerr sealed the victory, heading her fifth Games goal in from close range to sink Team GB – a third from White was not enough to turn the game.

It was Australia that burst out of the blocks with Kerr immediately getting in goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck’s face as Tony Gustavsson’s team pressed high and rattled their opponents. The pressure was short-lived though, with Team GB settling into the pace of a game far beyond what they have experienced in this tournament to date. The Manchester City forward Lauren Hemp returned to the starting lineup, having sat out the final group game with Canada, and caused havoc on the left wing.

In the home of the Kashima Antlers, who welcome an average of 20,000 fans to home games in a town with a population of 67,120 and where the Brazilian Zico scored 35 goals in 46 games between 1991 and 1994 and is now technical director, Team GB began to up the pressure.

The midfielder Keira Walsh smashed a long-range effort off the bottom of the post and then the woodwork denied Team GB again, with Daly hitting the post before the rebound from Hemp was saved on to the same post by Micah.

The Matildas’ passing was not as slick as their opponents’ and they struggled to creep the ball through the Team GB defence to Kerr, with the Arsenal centre-back Leah Williamson particularly impressive.

However, Australia punished the wasteful Team GB. Kerr, released on the right, looked to cross into the middle but Stokes deflected the pass out for a corner. Arsenal’s Steph Catley, one of seven Australians who will be playing in the Women’s Super League next season, sent in the cross and the former Tottenham player Kennedy rose highest to head home. The celebrations were wild from the team that have won only one of their past eight games (in the group stage against New Zealand), with Gustavsson racing along the touchline high-fiving substitutes.

Half-time offered a welcome opportunity to regroup. Riise’s team had come from behind to earn a draw with Canada but they had already earned their progression, this was a new test.

In the 57th minute their patience paid off. A mazy run from Hemp gave her enough space to look up and send a cross into the middle where White waited to send a header looping over Micah and into the far corner.

Less than 10 minutes later and the Manchester City forward had her fifth of the tournament, her flicked-on header falling to the defensive duo Avi Luik and Kennedy but under pressure from Hemp the latter back-heeled straight to White who fired into the far corner. Daly gripped the head of White in celebration and kissed her forehead in almost religious fashion in the Cathedral-like quiet of the Kashima Stadium.

A blow to the head for Little left the Scotland midfielder bleeding and heavily bandaged, and a break from her own half saw an audacious Hemp attempt to chip the goalkeeper from the halfway line as the clock ticked down, but you can never take your eyes off Kerr.

With one minute remaining, a ball over the top from Emily van Egmond fell teasingly at the feet of Kerr and the unmarked forward chested it down, turned and fired past Roebuck.

The ice vests the players placed around their necks before extra time made them look as if they were donning lifejackets on a slowly sinking ship.

Micah saved well twice in quick succession as Team GB continued to push forward, first from Walsh’s edge of the box pile-driver and then from White at a tight angle, but the collapse began. With Little off injured, Caroline Weir stepped up in the 102nd minute to attempt to convert a soft penalty won by Nikita Parris but it was soft and Micah parried away.

Australia immediately responded and in stunning fashion, with Fowler unleashing into the top corner. One minute after the break, Kerr added her second, outjumping Houghton to head in. Fran Kirby’s cross with five minutes to play was headed in by White for her hattrick, the sixth of the Games and her ninth goal in her past nine tournament games, but it was not enough.

Comments are closed.