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TOKYO — It wasn't enough to win, but it was enough to advance.
And, according to coach Vlatko Andonovski, it was all according to plan.
The U.S. women's soccer team finished level with Australia on Tuesday in its final game of the group stage at the Tokyo Olympics, a 0-0 draw that cemented the reigning World Cup champions in second place in Group G. They'll now face the winner of Group F – Netherlands – in the quarterfinals Friday, at 7 a.m. ET (8 p.m. in Japan.). The game will be rematch of the 2019 World Cup final won by the United States.
While settling for second in its group is not exactly the modus operandi for U.S. women's soccer, Andonovski said it was a tactical decision he made against the Aussies – to play defensively, knowing that the goal differential would work to their advantage in a tie.
"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," he said. "Obviously we didn't accomplish the first one, but we did accomplish the second one, which was very important because (it) ultimately put us in the same place."
After being blanked 3-0 by group winners Sweden in the opener, then demolishing New Zealand, the U.S. fell somewhere in between those two extremes Tuesday. It created a handful of chances – most notably on a corner kick in the 30th minute – but not enough of them.
The corner in question appeared to be a headed goal by Alex Morgan before the virtual assistant referee intervened, ruling Morgan offsides by a smidge. Morgan also had an earlier chance on a breakaway, after Rose Lavelle played her in behind Australia's defense in the eighth minute, but appeared to slip while taking a shot, resulting in a comfortable save for Australian goalkeeper Teagan Micah.
"Eventually, I feel like both teams kind of sat in," Morgan said, "and it became a game of playing a professional game and moving on."
The U.S. largely succeeded in its efforts to neutralize Australian forward Sam Kerr, who is one of the world's most dangerous attacking players. She finished with just two shots, neither on target. But the Americans mustered just eight shots on the other.
For a team that outscored its opponents 13-3 during its 2019 World Cup run – not including its 13-0 drubbing of Thailand – it was an uncharacteristic showing. But players said the conservative approach was by design.
"I think throughout this whole tournament, you have to be able to adapt," midfielder Julie Ertz said. "It's a very quick turnaround between games. So I think being able to have three very different styles of play in group stage allows us to kind of know what all the tools are that we have when we come to the knockout stage."
When asked if she liked where the U.S. sits at this point, Ertz quipped: "Where you want to be is out of the group stage. So yes."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: USWNT gets scoreless draw vs. Australia, still advances at Tokyo Games