July 6, 2011

Australia 2, Norway 1

In a winner take all battle for a quarterfinal berth, Australia defeated Norway 2-1 in a tense Group D match in Leverkusen. And it was the scoring touch of Kyah Simon that produced both goals for the Matildas.

Both teams made changes in their lineup for this match. Australia elected to get as much speed and offense into their lineup as possible, starting Caitlin Foord at right back, and the forward duo of Lisa De Vanna and Kyah Simon, with another forward, Samantha Kerr on the wing.

Norway moved Trine Ronning to the back line, starting Gry Tofte Ims and Lene Mykjaland in the midfield and Cecilie Pedersen at forward with Madeleine Giske, Nora Berge, and Isabell Herlovsen on the bench.

Norway held the early advantage in pressure and scoring chances, in fact for much of the first half. At the quarter hour mark, Norway were buzzing around the Australian penalty area, with Pedersen eventually blasting a shot from 12 yards. It appeared that Kim Carroll's cleat was the only thing that kept the ball from going into the net, as the Australian defender may just have gotten a piece of it.

Australia's first real effort was a long distance shot by Samantha Kerr which went harmlessly over the crossbar.

In the 26th minute, Norwegian keeper Ingrid Hjelmseth jumped to catch a high cross and landed awkwardly, apparently hurting her ankle. While she soldiered on for the remainder of the first half, she was replaced by Erika Skarbo at the intermission.

One of Norway's problems in the first two matches was putting shots on frame. Elise Thorsnes attempted to rectify that with three hard shots on goal within just a few minutes of the first half. But Matilda goalie Melissa Barbieri was able to stop and smother every shot. Thorsnes was certainly the most dangerous player on the pitch in the first half.

Australia took one other shot from distance by De Vanna at the end of the half, but Hjelmseth caught the ball easily. The game went to halftime scoreless. Norway made two changes at the half, the aforementioned Skarbo for Hjelmseth switch and Kristine Hegland came in for Emilie Haavi who had played well, but had been nursing an injury.

Norway pressured to start the second half in an attempt to get the lead. But their goal came on a very innocuous looking play. A long ball was played by Ingvild Stensland with the ball rolling toward the Australian penalty area. Barbieri, got to the edge of the box and decided to wait for the ball rather than going forward and kicking it clear. Thorsnes stepped around a defender, intercepted the ball directly in front of Barbieri and safely deposited it into the net. Norway had the lead they needed to advance in the 56th minute.

But the lead lasted less than a minute. Australia worked the ball up the left side where Ronning appeared to gain possession for Norway in the corner. But De Vanna deftly dispossessed the Norwegian defender, dribbled inside the box on the left side, and centered the ball to Kyah Simon who was just left of the penalty mark. Simon couldn't have been more accurate as she placed her shot in the lower right corner of the net with Skarbo having no chance. The game was now even again.

In the 67th minute, Australia threatened as Heather Garriock crossed from the left side. With both Kerr for Australia and Maren Mjelde for Norway charging toward the net, Skarbo was somehow able to make a sliding save to clear the ball out and preserve the tie.

Australia had another chance just three minutes later as De Vanna dispossessed another Norwegian defender, this time Guro Mienna. She passed the ball to the left of the box, but this time Simon's shot went wide of the right post.

Norway desperately tried to regain the lead. Ronning headed a Stensland corner kick over the bar in the 76th minute, followed by Pedersen's 16 yard shot going wide of the net just a minute later. But they came closest in the 84th minute, when it looked like they had retaken the lead.

Norway was awarded a free kick just outside the penalty area and Trine Ronning took the kick. Her shot from 22 yards hit the bottom of the crossbar almost in the upper left corner, but it did not go in and Australia was able to clear.

Australia put the game away in the 87th minute. Second half substitute Laura Alleway chased the ball down in the right corner and passed it to Kim Carroll who was about 28 yards out on the right wing. Carroll one-timed it into to the six-yard box dead center and Simon headed the ball home for her second goal of the match.

The match ended 2-1 for Australia and the Matildas were through to the quarterfinals, finishing in 2nd place in Group D. They will now face Sweden, who defeated the United States in Group C action today.