CARSON, Calif. -- An 89th-minute goal from Elena Fomina was the difference, as Russia downed Australia 2-1 in a physical game played at the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., the first match in a Group D doubleheader.
"Today's game was a difficult one and a decisive one," said Russian head coach Yury Bystritsky. "Of course, now we have much more confidence,"
For eighteen minutes of Sunday's matchup, midfielder Fomina looked very much the team goat.
Though Russia was outplayed for much of the match, it was Formina who stepped up to the penalty spot in the 71st minute with a chance to stake the Russians to an improbable 2-1 lead. The penalty kick had been awarded after defender Tai Karp was judged to have dragged down Natalia Barbachina in the box.
"It was a tough call," said defender Dianne Alagich. " "I'd need to see it again, but they (referees) could have easily called another penalty on us late in the game. So I guess it all evens itself out."
Fomina powered the penalty towards the right corner just a few inches high and it deflected off the crossbar and was cleared away by the Australian defense. Fomina's fate seemed sealed as the game wound down to its final few minutes.
But in the eighty-ninth minute, Fomina received a second chance.
After a scramble for the ball just outside the penalty area, Fomina settled the ball took a touch and drilled another shot into the right corner, this time hitting all net.
The strike turned the Russian midfielder from goat to hero in the blink of an eye.
Australia was unable to equalize and now must go into its next match wondering what could have been.
"It was a tough game; we did not want to underestimate Russia," said Australia defender Kelly Golebiowski. "I think we had opportunities in the game and we did not take them. They had a few lucky chances and they went for them, so that's the way the game went."
Australia controlled much of the first half with possession play and in the 37th minute was able to capitalize as forward Danielle Small ran onto a beautiful pass from Rhian Davies and beat her defender to get off a shot from 18 yards out. Small's shot beat Russian goalkeeper Alla Volkova, but pinged off the post directly to Golebiowski, who calmly deposited the rebound into the back of the net, past a scrambling Volkova.
Australia's elation was short-lived, however, as Russia used a little luck to even the score less than a minute later.
Off a free kick from 25 yards out, Russian defender Marina Saenko struck a seemingly harmless ball into the Australian penalty area. With little pressure around her, Australian defender Dianne Alagich mishit her clearance attempt directly into the top right corner of her own net, resulting in an own goal and a tie game.
"We had been speaking of such opportunities before," noted Bystritsky.
With the score leveled, the game opened up with both teams getting good scoring opportunities throughout the remainder of the match leading to Fomina's clutch last-minute tally.