The U.S. women’s soccer team finished group-stage play at the Olympics with an ugly scoreless draw against Australia in Kashima on Tuesday.
The result meant the Americans finished second in Group G and advanced to the quarterfinals. They will play the Netherlands on Friday in Yokohama in a rematch of the 2019 World Cup final, at the venue that hosted the 2002 men’s World Cup final.
The Dutch capped off group play with an 8-2 rout of China, to win their group. Star striker Vivianne Miedema recovered from a groin injury to play the last 28 minutes and score twice. She now has eight goals in the tournament, an Olympics record.
There was no such entertainment in the U.S. game. It saw just seven combined shots on goal, and the Americans had three of them. They were outshot overall, 10-8, outpassed and out-possessed, with surprisingly little of the high-pressing defense that has been a staple of Vlatko Andonovski’s managerial tenure.
But once Group G leader Sweden had an early 2-0 lead on New Zealand in a game played at the same time, Andonovski and his players knew they only needed a tie to finish second. That’s what they did, as unsightly as it was.
“We came with the mindset that the first goal was to win the game, and the second one was to put in a good, professional performance,” Andonovski told reporters in his postgame news conference. “We didn’t accomplish the first one, but we did the second one, which was very important because it ultimately put us in the same place.”
Of course, fans who woke up early or stayed up late for the 4 a.m. Eastern time kickoff weren’t going to be satisfied with a tie -- especially a scoreless one. Nor should they have been. Though the Americans’ 6-1 win over New Zealand had plenty of goals, the Football Ferns were easily the worst team in this group. In the two games against high-quality opponents, the U.S. did not score.
In this game, Alex Morgan had the best first-half scoring chance for either team, flagged offside in the 31st minute as she headed in a Kelley O’Hara cross out of a corner kick sequence. Initial replays appeared to show that Morgan was level with the last Australian defender, but the video replay booth’s computerized telemetry showed Morgan was offside by a shoulder — and perhaps less than that.
As the time came for substitutions, all eyes were on American forward Lynn Williams, who missed the first two group games due in part to a minor injury. Her defense-breaking speed seemed perfectly suited to face an Australian back line that was ripe for exploiting. Christen Press and Megan Rapinoe had mostly failed to do so.
The state of play was summed up by a 58th-minute U.S. set piece in which six American players were offside at the start, but the assistant referee let the sequence go until its conclusion before raising her flag. Even with that, a wide-open Kelley O’Hara misplayed a pass that Morgan retrieved, only to shoot the ball way over the crossbar.
The TV cameras cut to the U.S. bench, where Andonovski had his hands on his head and his eyes wide in disbelief.
He finally made substitutions in the 65th, sending in Lindsey Horan for Sam Mewis — whose passing was unusually bad in this game — and Tobin Heath for Rapinoe. Williams and Carli Lloyd entered in the 74th, replacing Press and Morgan.
Andonovski hinted that by the time Kristie Mewis replaced Rose Lavelle in the 87th, the stakes for the standings were known on the field.
“It was a great test for us today to see that the players can execute the game plan very, very well,” he said. “So whatever we feel like we need to do to win the [next] game, we’re going to present it to them and then let them do their job.”
The stakes for showing that the U.S. had upped its game, however, were not met.
Final group standings
Great Britain, 7 points
Netherlands, 7 points (+13 goal difference)
Brazil, 7 (+6)
Zambia, 1 (-8)
China, 1 (-)
Sweden, 9 points
United States, 4 (+2)
Australia, 4 (-1)
New Zealand, 0
All four games will be played on Friday. TV channels are still to be confirmed. All games will be available online at NBCOlympics.com.
4 a.m.: Canada. vs. Brazil at Rifu
5 a.m.: Great Britain vs. Australia at Kashima
6 a.m.: Sweden vs. Japan at Saitama
7 a.m.: Netherlands vs. United States at Yokohama