NICE • In the end, it wasn't defensive jitters that felled Australia's hopes of glory at the Women's World Cup on Saturday.
While they had some semblance of luck during the 120 minutes of normal and then extra time - Norway hit the crossbar and side netting, and a rebound off the inside of an upright rolled out rather than in - it seemed possible that they might have just enough to see them through to the quarter-finals.
Yet this good fortune ultimately could not extend to the cruelty of a penalty shoot-out after their last-16 clash had ended 1-1 as Martin Sjogren's players prevailed 4-1 to advance to the next stage.
The stark reality of tournament football will show that the Matildas, who have never progressed beyond the quarter-finals, failed to match the run to the last eight, achieved at the past three editions.
Australia have also now lost their last three games against European countries, including Italy and the Netherlands, and the short space of time between those defeats perhaps points to a current inability to deal with the challenges posed by European teams.
This is not to say that there were no developments during this tournament, which were evident in the game in Nice and, if positives should be sought from this disappointment, the display of defensive composure is one.
Norway's first-half opener, after all, was borne of a well-executed pass from Karina Saevik to tee up Isabell Herlovsen, rather than defensive disorganisation.
At the other end of the pitch, however, they were hampered by a lack of composure in providing service to Sam Kerr. Despite frustrating the Norwegians with Elise Kellond-Knight's equaliser seven minutes from time, Ante Milicic's women could not find a killer blow.
However, Milicic hailed his players for the way "they kept on fighting" despite losing Alanna Kennedy to a red card in extra time.
He said: "They never gave up, they really did things the hard way and, in the end, we couldn't climb the final hurdle. Once we lost a player, it became difficult."
However, Kerr admitted "we've let some people down", before insisting "we'll be stronger from it".
"To see... how the team has stuck together and the staff has stuck with us, we're very grateful for all the support we have," she added.
In the earlier match, Germany swatted aside Nigeria 3-0 to reach their eighth consecutive quarter-final at the quadrennial tournament.
Martina Voss-Tecklenburg's players await the winner between Sweden and Canada today.
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN, XINHUA
SWEDEN V CANADA
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