July 3, 2011

Australia 3, Equatorial Guinea 2

In what surely will go down as one of the stranger games of this year's World Cup, Australia was able to hold on for a 3-2 victory over Equatorial Guinea. The victory keeps Australia well alive going into their final Group D match against Norway on Wednesday. Equatorial Guinea, meanwhile, are on the brink of elimination pending the outcome of the Brazil-Norway match later today.

But what this game will probably be most remembered for is one of the most bizarre missed calls one will ever see. Australia was robbed of what should have been a penalty kick early in the match on what was a very strange play indeed.

Australia opened up the scoring in the 8th minute of the match, as Emily Van Egmond sent a ball into the box on the left side. Heather Garriock's original shot was hard and low, with Miriam making the save, but unable to secure the ball. Leena Khamis put the rebound into the net and the Matildas held a 1-0 advantage.

Then, in the 15th minute, absurdity came to the forefront. The play started with Heather Garriock's cross from the left side, which was perfectly placed for Leena Khamis' run at the near post. Khamis hit the left post from close in and then, for some strange reason, Equatorial Guinean defender Bruna grabbed the ball with both hands...and held it for two or three seconds while everyone looked on in disbelief.

But unfortunately for Australia, the only people in the stadium that didn't see it were the refereeing crew. While Khamis and several of the Aussie players pointed at Bruna and she continued to hold the ball, the referee and AR's apparently had a lapse, because no call was made. Bruna dropped the ball and eventually it was cleared, with Equatorial Guinea escaping what should have been a clear penalty opportunity for the Matildas.

The only reasonable explanation that one could see is that Miriam's orange goalkeeping jersey was somewhat similar to the red kits that the rest of her team were sporting and the referee mistakenly thought it was the goalkeeper who had handled the ball. The non-call seem to change the momentum of the game, as Australia had clearly dominated the match up until that point.

Anonman continued her shooting rampage, putting two shots wide right of the net in the 17th and 19th minute. But her persistence paid off in the 21st minute.

Australian defender Servet Uzunlar got a bit too casual as she was working to pass the ball back to keeper Lydia Williams and Anonman came up behind her, stole the ball, faked around Williams and deposited it into the net and just like that, it was 1-1. Anonman had struck like lightning and Australia was surely stunned by what had just happened.

However, the goal seemed to strengthen Australia's resolve and they went back to attacking over the remainder of the first half. Van Egmond hit a low bouncer from 16 yards that was handled by Miriam. A few minutes later, Khamis headed McCallum's free kick wide just wide of the near post and in the 40th minute, another McCallum free kick went loose in the box, but Miriam was able to cover up.

In the 41st minute, Anonman received a yellow card, apparently for wagging her finger in the referee's face one too many times. Play on both sides was becoming more contentious by the end of the half and tempers were beginning to flare.

Australia came close yet again just before intermission. McCallum's free kick from just outside the box rattled the crossbar and with Lauren Colthorpe waiting for the rebound, the ball took a high bounce over her head and Equatorial Guinea survived the first half with a tie score.

At the half, Tom Sermanni subbed in Lisa De Vanna for Sally Shipard and the move paid dividends. De Vanna was menacing for much of the second half and she injected new energy into the Australian side.

Play had been getting progressively chippier and the second half began with De Vanna being taken out on the left sideline on what bordered on a brutal tackle by Ana Christina. De Vanna came up limping and was clearly incensed, while her teammates tried to calm her. But she certainly used it as incentive to cause Equatorial Guinea problems throughout the second half.

It didn't take long for Australia to get the go ahead goal. Elise Kellond-Knight released a long pass up the left side, which Khamis used her great speed to track down just before it crossed the end line. Her one touch cross came back across the center of the box, but it was just a bit out of De Vanna's reach. However, Van Egmond was making a late run and was in perfect position to put the ball into the left side of the net from 10 yards out and Australian had regained the lead.

Australia increased their lead in the 51st minute. Just as EG's Diala was down on the pitch injured, McCallum recovered the ball at the center line and found De Vanna making a run to the top of the box. De Vanna used her left foot to touch the ball down and underneath Miriam into the net. At that point, it appeared that Aussies had the match in hand with a 3-1 lead.

In the 70th minute, Anonman hit a shot from the right side of the box from 15 yards which may have been headed for the upper left corner of the net. Lydia Williams leaped, barely getting a fingertip on the ball and force it wide. The referee incorrectly ruled a goal kick and Equatorial Guinea was denied a corner opportunity.

Not only was chippy play the order of the day, but apparently so was arguing with the referee. After being taken down by Sinforosa from behind, De Vanna was carded for pushing her complaint too far in the 72nd minute.

Australia came up with two more chances as they nearly widened their lead. McCallum, who was dangerous with free kicks all day long, tried to curl a left-footed shot inside the left post, but Vania was able to get a glancing header on it from the wall and the ball sailed just wide. A McCallum cross landed on top of the bar and bounced over in the 77th minute.

Anonman continued to pressure the Australian back line and she was able to bring Equatorial Guinea back into the match in the 83rd minute, with Uzunlar being the unfortunate victim again. Uzunlar made the mistake of trying to dribble around Anonman out of the back and the Guinean striker picked her clean. Anonman walked in alone and hit a well-placed shot into the lower right corner of the net and it was 3-2.

Surprisingly, only two minutes of stoppage was given, considering there were three goals, a couple of injuries, and a few yellow cards in the second half, not to mention several discussions between the players and the referee. Equatorial Guinea's last opportunity came in stoppage time. Laetitia effort from 25 yards went well wide of the net and Australia had held on to a 3-2 victory.

For Uzunlar, it has to be a day she'd just as soon forget, but it was somewhat softened by the Matilda's victory. De Vanna's energy and fire helped inspire the Aussie's in the second half. Khamis, McCallum, Van Egmond, and Garriock had very strong games for Australia and except for the two mistakes, Australia's defense was solid.

One cannot say enough about the play of Anonman. She was perpetually running at the Australian defense with seemingly endless energy and her efforts were the only reason they were able to stay in the match. However, it just wasn't enough for Equatorial Guinea to win on this day.

For Equatorial Guinea, only a miracle would prevent them from being eliminated. They will face Brazil on Wednesday.

Australia will now meet Norway in what could be a winner take all match for a quarterfinal berth on Wednesday. At this point, Australia and Norway have one goal victories over Equatorial Guinea, with the Aussies also suffering a one goal defeat by Brazil. Norway and Brazil both have three points and they will meet later today.

If Brazil should beat Norway, the goal differential could have major implications for that final match. A tie would mean that Australia would need to defeat Norway to advance. A Norwegian victory complicates matters further.