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June 17, 2015

After 'group of death', it's do-or-die for U.S. and Australia

VANCOUVER -- Having escaped the 'group of death', it is now do-or-die for the United States and Australia after advancing to the knockout round of the Women's World Cup on Tuesday.

In a pool featuring three sides ranked in the top 10 and the top African nation Nigeria, there may be no tougher route to the July 5 title game than from Group D, but the U.S. (2) and Australia (10) navigated the first stretch hitting only a few bumps along the way.

The U.S. (2-1-0) clinched top spot with a testy 1-0 win over Nigeria that included a red card and finished with the Super Falcons coach Edwin Okon refusing to shake his opposite number American Jill Ellis's hand.

The sour finish did not take away from sweet victory for the Americans, whose defense has been air-tight in not conceding a goal in 243 minutes, even if their attack has sputtered.

Abby Wambach, the all-time leading scorer in women's soccer, added to her record total in the 45th minute.

The goal also boosted the U.S. captain's World Cup tally to 14 and moved her into a tie for second on the all-time list with Germany's Birgit Prinz.

"I think it is important people understand scoring goals in not that easy," said Wambach, though she has made it look routine with 183 for her country.

"I'm not making excuses I need to finish chances that are handed to me.

"I just think if I score goals I am helping my team win games and now it is do-or-die, you win to move on."

Australia (1-1-1) grabbed the runnerup spot in the group after holding on for a 1-1 draw with Sweden, who closed out round-robin play without a victory (0-3-0) but could still advance as one of the best third-place finishers.

Having survived a tough group, the Americans and Australians believe they are better for the experience, emerging battle-tested and ready to take on any and all challengers.

"I read a lot of reports before the tournament and I don’t think one predicted us to progress," said Australian coach Alen Stajci.

"A tough game and not a pretty one to watch perhaps, but this gives us so much belief that we can take on the best and beat them in the knockout rounds.

"Any team that comes up against will have a fight on their hands."

There will be no shortage of confidence in the Japan (3-0-0) camp after the defending champions posted three straight wins to comfortably take top spot in Group C ahead of African debutants Cameroon (2-0-1).

Yuki Ogimi's fifth-minute goal accounted for all the scoring as Japan stopped determined Ecuador 1-0.

The South Americans, outscored 16-1 in their opening two contests, put up a brave effort against the champions but never really threatened, exiting the tournament without a win.

Cameroon scored two second-half goals to edge Switzerland 2-1 and extend their stay in Canada, advancing to the knockout round in their first World Cup appearance.