Olympic flame extinguished
By BRAD GREENSHIELDS
THE Matildas' dreams of qualifying for the Beijing Olympics were left shattered yesterday at the BCU International Stadium.
Two second-half goals in the space of nine minutes that were against the run of play were enough to see North Korea celebrate booking themselves a place at next year's Olympiad while all the Australian team could do when the referee blew full time was console each other's disappointment after watching their high hopes slip through their fingers.
The scenes of devastation among the Australian camp after the game were there for all to see as the raw emotions of a group that worked hard to reach a goal only to fall agonisingly close at the last hurdle spilled over.
For a veteran such as captain Cheryl Salisbury, as well as defender Di Alagich, midfielder Joanne Peters and forward Joanne Burgess, who will all well into their 30s by the time the London Games come around in 2012, it was also the realisation that this was perhaps their last opportunity to experience the thrill of playing in the Olympics.
As shattered as the playing group was, Matildas' coach Tom Sermanni said that he couldn't have been prouder of his team as there was no way that they could've played any better.
"I don't think the girls left anything on that field," he said.
"The effort was unbelievable and I thought our performance was outstanding and the players gave everything they could possibly give."
What left Sermanni feeling the worst was that as a coach who clearly feels so close to his players, he felt that the Matildas played the best possible football that the team could produce.
"Sometimes you just get beaten by a better team and at the moment in women's football, North Korea are probably as close to being an unbeatable team as any women's team that I have seen," he said.
"So that's why I feel very disappointed for the players because I think on today's form, had we played any other team and played like we did, we would have won the game."
In the first half, the Koreans dominated possession but were unable to create scoring opportunities thanks to relentless defence from Salisbury and Alagich as well as high energy running from midfielders Sally Shipard and Peters.
A half-time substitution that introduced Lisa De Vanna to the left side of the field paid immediate results and for 15 minutes after the break, the Matildas looked like scoring the vital first goal.
"The unfortunate thing today was that we were actually having our best spell of the game and felt that we had some momentum going and had them pushed back when we actually let through the goal," Sermanni said.
"That was a little bit heartbreaking.
"They had to score some terrific goals though. One was right in the top corner and the first goal was a great quality cross to the back post which really catches defenders out and it was a great finish."
Full credit is due to the high quality football of the Koreans but the Matildas didn't deserve to be on the wrong end of a 2-0 scoreline.
Refusing to give up any easy possession to their opponents, the Aussies defended stoutly while the midfield battled grimly to constantly regather the ball and again send the it into attack where initially Kate Gill and then substitute Caitlin Munoz were strong over the ball to set up play for team-mates.
Full credit to the stingy Korean back four who made life difficult for the Australians and worthwhile shots on goal were few and far between.