Australia’s women entered their final Pool F clash needing three points and seven goals to supplant Germany in second place and ensure a favourable final-eight match-up.
They fell agonisingly short in Salvador overnight but still secured their pathway with a 6-1 rout of Zimbabwe.
The Matildas led 6-0 in the 66th minute and needed only to hit the back of the net once more to avoid a meeting with world No.1 US or world No.8 host nation Brazil, who beat them 3-1 in a pre-Games friendly.
But a 91st-minute strike from Emmaculate Msipa means Australia will go through as one of the top two third-placed teams across the three groups and tread the more difficult road.
“Towards the end of the game we heard Canada were up so we were really trying to hit at least seven goals and put ourselves in the best position,” co-captain Clare Polkinghorne said.
“It was a bit disappointing that we let them get on the scoresheet, but at the end of the day we did what we had to do and we should be proud of that.”
The result came at a critical juncture of the Rio tournament.
After a shock opening capitulation to Canada and a last-gasp draw with Germany, Alen Stajcic’s world No.5 Australians needed victory at Itaipava Arena Fonte Nova to rescue their campaign.
They got the job done in dominant fashion, fuelled by solid set-piece play and a high-pressing game that caged Zimbabwe in their own half for large portions of the contest.
Lisa De Vanna settled nerves with the opening goal in the second minute, banging in a lovely left-footer after Katrina Gorry knocked the ball across goal.
Polkinghorne doubled the tally inside the 15-minute mark when Elise Kellond-Knight’s corner gave her the easiest of tap-ins.
Zimbabwe became a little more enterprising with a few forays down the middle but it was short-lived as the world No.93 outfit wilted under pressure and soon succumbed a third time.
Kellond-Knight lobbed in another well-placed corner to find the head of a leaping Alanna Kennedy before Kyah Simon made it 4-0 early in the second half via a superb first-time finish from Steph Catley’s through ball.
Substitute Michelle Heyman had been on the field only three minutes when she got in on the action with a header at the far post, in a goalmouth scramble that ended with Zimbabwe goalkeeper Chido Dzingirai being stretchered off.
Heyman wasn’t done, beating the offside trap from Emily van Egmond’s pass and executing a neat finish, before Msipa scored in injury-time.
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