Above: Ellie Carpenter competes with Rikke Marie Madsen. Photo: Football Australia.
Denmark 3-2 Australia
By Ben Gilby
The Matildas remain very much a work in progress as they produced a performance which mixed promise with pain in Horsens on Thursday evening.
Australia began the game with high energy and seized control of the midfield from the off playing a rapid fire passing game with confidence. There was creativity on both flanks, but it was always going to be tough with a starting formation that saw Sam Kerr play as a lone striker.
The Chelsea superstar did have some opportunities in the first forty-five. Early on, she turned Simone Boye Sørensen and forced a good save from Lene Christensen.
However as time went on, Kerr became increasingly isolated. Kyah Simon was often located very wide, occasionally even outside the attacking rampages of Ellie Carpenter from right-back with Hayley Raso occasionally popping up in the same channel. Therefore, Denmark were able to swamp Kerr with defenders to nullify her threat.
Just after the twelfth minute mark came the first sign that all was not right with the defensive set up. As the Danes attacked, it became increasingly apparent that there were often three Matildas defenders at the back with acres of space between them which the home side took advantage of.
The defensive set up also became hindered with a calamitous six minute period of indecision. With a quarter of an hour played, the Danes earned a free kick on the right which was whipped high into the box. Raso and Emily Van Egmond both went to head it clear, both missed it and in the resulting panic, Tameka Yallop reached out a leg in an attempted clearance but could only direct it past Mackenzie Arnold and Denmark were ahead.
Four minutes later and again, the Australian defensive formation was split too far apart as the Danes could pick a hole to attack. They earned a corner which led to more chaos at the back as three opportunities to clear the danger were missed and Rikke Sevecke, who looked to be offside, finally forced the ball into the net but the goal was given. There was anger that the goal was allowed, but the Matildas had too many chances to clear the danger before the ball finally found the net.
It became 3-0 after an unfortunate error of judgement from Arnold when a fiendishly curling cross came back off the woodwork at the near post and the West Ham goalkeeper could only end up helping the ball over her own line.
This was the nadir, but the positives all flowed from here on in. Australia re-took the midfield and began to re-assert themselves offensively, albeit despite Kerr still being shackled by the Danish defence and Caitlin Foord surprisingly not involved much on the ball.
Going into this match, the Matildas head coach Tony Gustavsson did admit that “We only have three days together before the first game against Denmark…is it going to look perfect? Probably not.”
Some positive changes were made by the coaching staff and the impact they made were clear. Mary Fowler, the 18 year-old striker from Cairns who plays her football in D1 Arkema with Montpellier made a real impact. She was busy, industrious and linked up well with Kerr, allowing the Western Australian to have more of an influence on the game. Later on in events, Emily Gielnik came on for Raso and offered another outlet which added to the threat of Fowler and Kerr.
A combination of the Matildas having claim to the midfield, a more cohesive attacking formation and the #NeverSayDie spirit, saw a promising second half which means that the squad can go into Tuesday’s game in Kalmar with Olympic group rivals Sweden in good heart.
Not everything was perfect in the second half, if we were being ultra picky, Kerr was caught offside too many times and Ellie Carpenter coughed up possession occasionally, but one was left with the impression that the coaching staff and players had learned from the inefficiencies of the first half and were striving to put it right.
Fowler’s contribution was rewarded with her first goal for her country – and it was a real rocket of a shot. Clare Polkinghorne’s stoppage header ensured that the score line took on a more realistic hue.
Teams: DENMARK: 1) Lene Christensen, 5) Simone Boye Sørensen, 3) Stine Pedersen, 11) Katrine Veje, 4) Rikke Sevecke, 13) Sofie Pedersen, 10) Penille Harder, 24 Kathrine Møller Kühl, 12) Stine Larsen, 17) Rikke Marie Madsen, 14) Nicoline Sørensen.
Substitutes used: 7) Sanne Nielsen (for Boye Sørensen), 15) Frederikke Thøgersen (for Sevecke), 21) Caroline Møller (for Harder), 27) Luna Gevitz (for S. Larsen), 19) Janni Thomsen (for Madsen).
Scorers: Yallop OG 15, Sevecke 21, Arnold OG 21.
AUSTRALIA: 18) Mackenzie Arnold, 3) Aivi Luik, 4) Clare Polkinghorne, 7) Steph Catley, 21) Ellie Carpenter, 10) Emily Van Egmond, 13) Tameka Yallop, 17) Kyah Simon, 20) Sam Kerr, 9) Caitlin Foord, 16) Hayley Raso.
Substitutes used: 11) Beattie Goad (for Luik), 8) Courtney Nevin (for Catley), 14) Alanna Kennedy (for Yallop), 23) Mary Fowler (for Simon), 19) Kyra Cooney-Cross (for Foord), 15) Emily Gielnik (for Raso).
Scorers: Fowler 87, Polkinghorne 90+2.