Australia 2-1 New Zealand
By Kris Goman
Pictured above: Tameka Yallop celebrates after her stunning opening goal. Photo: Getty Images.
Australia produced an impressive performance against their Trans-Tasman rivals to claim an important three points in their opening game at the Olympic Games. However, there will be a degree of frustration at the fact that they didn’t score as many goals as their possession deserved – and at the late concession of a goal to the Football Ferns.
Both teams made an impressive stand against racism before kick-off. During the team photos, the Matildas proudly display the Aboriginal flag in a show of solidarity and New Zealand take a knee while Australia choose to stand together linking arms.
Australia kick off and apply immediate pressure as the ball goes straight into the box. It’s cleared out to the side by NZ keeper Erin Naylor and the Ellie Carpenter throw in bounces around the box before being cleared by CJ Bott.
A long ball from Clare Polkinghorne goes right into the box and the Naylor clearance goes to Green as Simon jumps on her back from behind, AFL style, giving away a foul. Emily Van Egmond and Kyah Simon do a little passing routine through the midfield before Van Egmond sends one up to Sam Kerr but it’s a bit beyond her. Van Egmond seems to be much more attacking in this game already and is sending the ball forward.
Olympics debutant Aivi Luik brings the ball up and sends it to Steph Catley who finds Caitlin Foord. The Arsenal star beats Meikayla Moore but can’t keep the ball in and Katie Bowen brings it back down the pitch. She’s relieved of the ball and Van Egmond takes a run and gets it back to Foord. Her cross floats in front of goal, only to be punched away by Naylor as Simon arrives. The most exciting play so far.
Hayley Raso’s first involvement comes via a run down the right after a big switch of play by Van Egmond results in a corner as her cross is deflected by Green. Catley takes the corner but Abby Erceg heads it out safely. It lands with Australia again and Van Egmond sends a great ball to Foord in the box. It once more deflects off a Kiwi for a corner as she kicks it back into play. The difference in Van Egmond from the previous five games is truly astounding. Everything is going forward and the strikers are getting the ball.
Catley takes the corner again and Simon gets her head to it but it goes across the goal and out to the right corner where NZ picks it up. Carpenter relieves them of the ball and whips it back in. Erceg gets a leg to it and it looks like it might be an own goal but Naylor bats it safely past before being cleared by Bott.
The next clearance by Naylor isn’t great and goes to Simon who passes it back in. It comes out to Tameka Yallop who passes to Simon who finds Kerr before the Chelsea star returns possession to Yallop. She takes a mighty shot and slams it over the head of Naylor and Australia finally score. It’s 1-0 at 20 minutes in after a period of intense pressure from the Matildas.
On a NZ attack, Luik tackles and intercepts the ball before getting it away to Foord who brings it down the left. She centres to Simon who flicks on to Kerr in the box. She takes a shot but Erceg is there to save the day for the Kiwis and it’s deflected out for another corner. Catley’s taking it. She lobs to Kerr who heads it straight to Naylor. It goes over her head but she gets a hand to it which deflects it into the crossbar and behind her and into goal. It’s Sam’s first goal in six matches and the hoodoo is lifted amidst scenes of joy as the Matildas go clear by two goals.
NZ fight back and get a bit of possession. Ria Percival sends a ball into goal but Lydia Williams has it under control and there’s no one else in the box to bother her. Foord has a lovely run down the left but is stopped by Erceg. After all that, she’s called offside and it has to go right back to nearly halfway for the free kick.
With the half reaching its climax, Catley and Kerr combine to threaten the Football Ferns goal once more with a 1-2 before Catley’s cross finds a diving Simon to head it to Naylor. Not quite enough power on it as she took it very low.
Green sends a long ball into the box for Hannah Wilkinson which sees both her and Williams jump for it but Williams is able to grab it with few problems. With the whistle for the interval going, the Matildas are looking good with lots of attacking play and their offensive players all getting forward. As well as leading 2-0 on the scoreboard, Australia have seven shots to nil in the opening 45 minutes.
The Kiwis are looking livelier in the second half. Betsy Hassett is right in front of goal but it floats right over her head to the other side of the box.
The Matildas respond when Simon shoots but it’s headed away. Carpenter crosses straight back in but Kerr can’t connect and it goes out via Erceg, according to Kerr. Australia doesn’t get the corner though.
Australia are now back to mounting wave after wave of attack. Kerr runs onto a ball from Foord and Naylor comes out and blocks brilliantly. Kerr is involved again when she finds Catley. Her centre reaches Foord who finds some space for a great header stopped again by Naylor who’s having a brilliant game.
NZ regroup for a rate attack aided by a scary moment for Williams in the Matildas goal. A ball in sees the Arsenal goalkeeper come right out to the edge of the box, get wrong footed and fall over, leaving the goal wide open. Carpenter recovered in time to clear the cross. It was a big mistake from Williams that could have been disastrous.
The Football Ferns make an important change by bringing Paige Satchell, who had a magnificent season with Canberra United in the W-League. She has an immediate impact bringing the ball into the box. She passes to Daisy Cleverley who gets it to Bott. Bott’s flick finds it Percival who’s bundled down by Foord who is very lucky not to give away a penalty.
Erceg saves another cross from Catley, marking Kerr closely. Bott gets a yellow card for a late tackle that cleans up Polkinghorne. Carpenter crosses to Simon and Naylor saves yet again. Both she and Erceg have saved many goals tonight. Van Egmond takes the corner but it floats over past the far post and is eventually cleared.
Catley is then on the receiving end of a succession of tough challenges. From one, Katie Bowen takes the Arsenal star out and gets a yellow card for her efforts.
Raso goes off and Alanna Kennedy comes on in a more defensive move. NZ get a free kick on the right and Bowen takes it again. Australia has a very high line for this kick. Williams is off her line quite a bit and has to back pedal as Bowen tries for the top corner. It just misses but that was a tactical error by Australia and was very close.
Mary Fowler comes on as a sub, and has another energetic cameo. She takes a shot that rebounds to Carpenter who crosses. Very nearly goes in but skims the far post and goes out.
There’s a substitution for NZ with Gabi Rennie coming on for her international debut for the Football Ferns, and she has an big impact.
Satchell brings the ball down the left side and passes to Wilkinson. She crosses to the far post and Percival gets a head to it and send it back across the goal to Rennie who wrong foots Williams with her header and it’s a goal for New Zealand. Rennie’s been on less than five minutes and has scored on her debut. 2-1 and Australia is still in the lead with a minute to go.
It’s a disappointing finish for Australia as goal difference is going to be important in this competition as they will determine who goes through to the quarter-finals for the third placed teams. It’s still three points in the bag though and that puts the Matildas in second place in the group. It also puts NZ third and USA last with Sweden at the top.
Despite the late concession, it was a good showing for Australia. They looked dominant the whole match and kept NZ out of the box for almost the whole match.
They were far more attacking than previous matches and the formation seemed to work well against the Football Ferns. Still, Kerr was kept largely out of the match, particularly in the second half, thanks to very tight marking by Erceg. The Matildas looked much better in the midfield and the defence looked very strong.
Carpenter and Catley were free to come up and attack and they did it well and were able to connect with Raso and Foord. Kerr had a bit more involvement and was able to score finally.
For NZ, Erceg and Naylor really stood out. Bott had a great game too and Bowen was able to serve in some critical balls from free kicks. They were pretty solid in defence but really didn’t make many inroads in attack until right at the end when Satchell and Rennie came on. Wilkinson just couldn’t do it all by herself.
Next match for Australia is against Sweden who beat the USA in their opening match in a stunning upset. Sweden looked very strong in that match and Australia will need to step up to win that game. It’s not beyond them but one shouldn’t put too much faith in the last result where the teams drew 0-0 as Sweden had a few of their key players missing. The game is on Saturday 24th July at 9:30am GMT/6.30pm AEST. New Zealand will play the USWNT at 12:30pm GMT/9.30pm AEST and the US will be desperate for a win. The group of death is looking very interesting.
Speaking after the game, Matildas head coach Tony Gustavsson said: “One of the headlines we had in the attacking game today was movements off the ball.
“We knew playing New Zealand is very physical if you play static and they like to get into those duels. You need to move a lot off the ball and play fast, and I think we did that today.”
Gustavsson had plenty of words of praise for his team’s two goalscorers:
“If you look at that technical action that Sam did with the assist to Meeks, with a brilliant finish, nice combination play straight from the training park that we’ve worked on as well.
“That flick that Sam did and the finishing from Meeks is a beautiful goal, and then the corner with Sam’s technique with her head.
“We’ve said from day one, it needs to be a collective attack, and it was the collective attack that won us this game, but obviously it’s good that Sam gets more involved in a game and that’s something that we’ve worked very hard on as well, to get her more on the ball.
“She’s a multi-dimensional forward but I don’t think she gets enough credit for her pressing game. I think she’s one of the best defensive forwards in the world.
“That first goal has come from our pressing game as well, and that’s one reason why I brought Meeks into the central midfield in this game with her presence when it comes to our pressing game but also her runs from deep, and you saw that in that 1-0 goal.”
Teams: AUSTRALIA: Williams, Polkinghorne, Catley, Luik, Carpenter, Van Egmond, Foord, Yallop, Raso, Kerr, Simon. Substitutes: Cooney-Cross, Logarzo, Fowler, Kennedy, Gielnik, Micah, Brock.
Scorers: Yallop 20, Kerr 33.
NEW ZEALAND: Naylor, Percival, Green, Bott, Moore, Riley, Erceg, Chance, Hassett, Bowen, Wilkinson. Substitutes: Bunge, Rennie, Longo, Satchell, Cleverley, Leat, van der Meer.
Scorer: Rennie 90.
Referee: Lucila Venegas (MEX)