KASHIMA, SAGA, Saga — The United States did what was necessary to advance at the Tokyo Olympics, it just wasn't exactly the high-flying offensive juggernaut that the Americans are known for.
The U.S. women made it through to the quarterfinals of the women's soccer tournament after a 0-0 draw with Australia on Tuesday in an stadium mainly empty save for a group of Japanese schoolchildren.
The Americans are looking to win a fifth Olympic gold medal in Tokyo. They are also vying to become the first team to win at the Olympics following a World Cup title.
But they've made it hard on themselves at the Tokyo Games. They lost to Sweden 3-0 in their opening match — snapping a 44-game unbeaten streak — before rebounding with a 6-1 victory over New Zealand.
The draw with Australia secured the United States second place in Group G behind Sweden on goal difference. The Americans will face the Netherlands, the top finisher in Group F, in Yokohama on Friday. The game is a rematch of the 2019 World Cup final, which the United States won 2-0.
“It was a tactical decision by (coach Vlatko Andonovski) to shift defensively, a little more conservatively, and really allow them to get impatient, play along and give it back to us,” U.S. forward Alex Morgan said. “Eventually, I feel like both teams kind of sat in, and it became a matter of playing a professional game and moving on.”
The United States made five lineup changes from the last match against New Zealand, which was not unexpected given the tight competition schedule. Morgan was back up front, in place of Carli Lloyd, while Megan Rapinoe replaced Tobin Heath. Captain Becky Sauerbrunn and defender Kelley O'Hara also returned to the starting lineup.
Morgan broke away early in the game but her hard shot was stopped by Australia goalkeeper Teagan Micah.
Morgan's header in the 30th minute was disallowed for offside, a call that was confirmed by video review. The United States also had four goals called back for offside in the first half of the victory over New Zealand.
Overall, the Americans again looked out of sorts. Australia controlled possession for much of the game. On Megan Rapinoe's free kick in the 57th, O'Hara's pass missed and Morgan's shot went over the goal, but again the Americans were offside.
“Coming into this game, we came in with the mindset that the first goal was to win the game and the second goal was to put in a good, professional performance, and not get scored on,” Andonovski said. “Obviously we didn't accomplish the first one but we did accomplish the second one, which was very important because ultimately it put us in the same place.”
Australia defeated New Zealand in its opener before falling to Sweden 4-2.
Australia coach Tony Gustavsson said it was apparent from the start that the United States was going to shift its tactics based on their formation.
“What I'm pleased with, from our standpoint, is that it felt like were in control in a lot of the moment of the game, both with and without the ball, and that I like,” Gustavsson said. “After the Sweden game I was asked how we were going to approach the U.S. game and I said `We're going to be true to who we are, and hopefully if we play our A game, it's good enough.'”
Australia made a late change to its starting lineup, replacing Caitlin Foord with Mary Fowler. Foord had a leg issue in warmups and it was decided to hold her out as a precaution.
Children from schools around Kashima, a coastal town of about 67,000, attended the match, some carrying signs. When Rapinoe was taken off in the second half, they politely applauded as she passed by.
The Matildas also advanced as the third-place finisher in the group and will play Britain in the quarterfinals on Friday in Kashima.
Gustavsson and his coaching staff stayed to watch the late match in Kashima between Canada and Britain in anticipation of a match in the knockout round. Britain played to a 1-1 draw with the Canadians to top Group E.
With 12 teams competing in the tournament, the top two finishers in each of three groups advanced to the knockout stage, along with the top two third-place finishers.