The United States women’s soccer team scrambled through to the knockout stages on Tuesday as, watched by a small crowd of local schoolchildren, they kept their bid for Tokyo 2020 gold alive with a tame goalless draw against Australia.
The Americans had responded to a surprise opening round defeat to Sweden with a 6-1 thrashing of New Zealand, but they struggled to unlock Australia’s defense and finished Group G with a less-than-convincing four points from three matches.
The world champions put the ball in the net on the half-hour but Alex Morgan’s headed attempt was chalked off by the video assistant referee for offside.
“It was a great test for us today to see that the players can execute the game plan very, very well,” U.S. coach Vlatko Andonovski, whose team next face the tournament’s top scorers the Netherlands in the quarter-finals, told a news conference.
While Andonovski defended his team’s lacklustre display, his counterpart Tony Gustavsson was left surprised by their lack of intensity in the first half.
“They were a bit passive in their pressing and I’m used to seeing them very, very aggressive,” said Australia coach Gustavsson, who has previously worked as an assistant coach with the Americans.
In a rare occasion for this largely spectator-free Games, there were fans in the Ibaraki Kashima Stadium to watch the game, a small crowd of local schoolchildren who organizers had invited in.
Australia also advanced to the quarter-finals as one of the two best third-placed teams alongside hosts Japan, who edged out Chile 1-0 thanks to a late strike from substitute Mina Tanaka.
Britain, who had already booked a place in the final eight, conceded their first goal of the tournament but battled back through a Caroline Weir strike to secure a 1-1 draw with Canada and remain unbeaten in the tournament.
Canada, bidding to upgrade their bronze from Rio 2016, finished second on five points in Group E. They will next face Brazil, who edged out Zambia 1-0 to finish second in Group F.
The Netherlands turned on the style to punch their tickets to the knockout stages with an 8-2 rout of China. The Dutch side topped Group F with seven points and 21 goals in three games.
First-half goals by forwards Madelen Janogy and Anna Anvegard helped the so far unstoppable Swedes maintain their perfect record with a 2-0 victory over New Zealand, who finished bottom of the group following three straight defeats.
The quarter-final matches will be played on Friday.