Hosts' delight as Australia bow out
Russia and Australia faced off at Moscow's Torpedo Stadium for a place in the knockout stage. The hosts needed just a draw, and that is exactly what they got, with their reward a quarter-final place against China PR.
However, it could have been very different, as the Young Matildas dominated much of this encounter and, on another day - had their finishing been more ruthless - they could easily have won by a comfortable margin.
The Australians started brightly and could have been two up by the sixth minute. First, Sasha McDonnell burst into the box from the left, shaking off her marker and fired in a shot that skidded along the sodden turf. Elvira Todua in the Russian goal was unable to get to the ball, but to the relief of the local support, it flew centimetres wide of the post.
Then, minutes later, Servet Uzunlar found herself in a shooting position and fired in a solid effort from 20 metres, which Todua only managed to hold at the second attempt.
The tournament hosts opted for a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Anna Kozhnikova playing in the hole behind the lone forward, Elena Danilova. Though they looked comfortable on the ball, and were working it well through the middle of the park, they were unable to carve out any decent chances. The Young Matildas, by contast, opted for an attacking 3-5-2 formation, with just one defensive midfielder, and they looked much sharper, requiring Todua to be constantly on her toes.
It was 23 minutes before Danilova managed to produce the first real threat on Lydia Williams' goal. Capitalising on a defensive error, Russia's lone striker grabbed possession, fighting off a challenge from Clare Polkinghorne before letting rip from a narrow angle, but the Australian keeper was well placed to make the save.
In reply, Australia's Collette McCallum sent a fierce shot from outside the box flying over the bar, and then in the 26th minute it took a miraculous piece of goalkeeping from Todua to keep the hosts' goal intact. When an Australian free-kick was swung in from the left, the ball fell to McDonnell in the box, and she was quick to react with a shot from just five metres out. Somehow, however, Todua pulled off a brilliant reflex save, parrying the effort with her legs.
"The fact that Todua was named Player of the Match says a lot about the way the game went," reflected Australia coach Alistair Edwards at the post-match press conference.
The Australians managed to scare the hosts once more before the half-time whistle, when in the 37th minute the ill-starred McDonnell picked up a pass from her captain Sally Shipard and somehow managed to fire wide from four metres.
Russians start to wilt
After the break, the Young Matildas' superiority was even more pronounced, and Russia's back four were finding it harder and harder to keep them in check. In the 47th minute, Todua was once again the saviour, stopping a long-range effort from Shipard. Soon afterwards, McDonnell had a gilt-edged chance when she found herself in front of an empty goal, but a poor prevented her from capitalising.
The hosts were mostly camped in their own box, and were restricted to rare counter-attacks, but in the 61st minute they conjured up a great chance. A one-two between Danilova and Morozova created an opening for Kozhnikova, whose first-time effort from just inside the box flew marginally wide.
Fortunately for the hosts, she did better with her next chance. Following excellent work from the tireless Danilova, who advanced to the byline and whipped in a cross to the far post, Kozhnikova was again on hand, and this time she made no mistake from all of four yards (1-0, 75').
It was Kozhnikova who had opened the scoring for the host team in their previous match against New Zealand , and defender Alexandra Gomozova was full of praise for her team-mate: "She's done really well. She went a long time without a goal, but she's back on track now."
Despite falling behind against the run of play, the Australians refused to lose heart, and their hard work was finally rewarded in the 85th minute when Danielle Brogan met an inswinging McCallum free-kick with a wonderful diving header (1-1, 85').
There were almost tears for Russia at the death. A minute before the end of normal time, Todua fumbled the ball, and, to the horror of the home support, it trickled between her legs towards the goal. Luckily, a defender was on hand to clear the ball and spare her blushes. Even then, the Australians kept pressing forward and created several more chances, but the hosts held on to ensure that it is they, and not the Young Matildas, who live to fight another day at Russia 2006.
"It was a tough match, and the bad weather created extra problems," commented Todua at the end, referring to the heavy rain that fell for much of the game. "It was a good thing for us that we only needed a draw."
Player of the Match: ELVIRA TODUA
"Australia created a number of chances throughout the match, but Todua was almost always well placed to cut out the danger, including in one-on-one situations. There were moments when she seemed a bit uncertain, but whenever it really mattered she rose to the occasion," Tina Theune-Meyer (GER) FIFA Technical Study Group .