United States of America 0-0 Australia
By Ben Gilby
Pictured above: Mary Fowler (left) who had a superb first half, holds of USA’s Crystal Dunn. Photo: Getty Images.
Australia produced an example of professional game management within an overall well organised team display to earn a point against World Champions USA in Ibiraki.
The United States took quite a while to impose themselves on the match and had no more than 40% of possession throughout the game.
The defensive difficulties that have plagued Australia since they switched to a back three were largely absent in this game as the Matildas worked hard to cover when the likes of Ellie Carpenter pushed forward.
Tony Gustavsson made three changes with Alanna Kennedy coming in for Aivi Luik at the back, and there was a welcome return for Chloe Logarzo who hadn’t started an international for 17 months. Just before the kick-off, Caitlin Foord, who was named in the starting eleven was replaced by Mary Fowler. The teenager from Cairns would have a strong game.
There were five changes for the USA who went into the game knowing they would need a minimum of a point to ensure they qualified for the knockout stages as group runners-up. Australia would be highly likely to qualify for the Quarter-Finals even if they lost.
The Matildas had lots of early possession with Fowler prominent. There was though an early chance for Alex Morgan who broke through but Teagan Micah saved comfortably.
Carpenter largely nullified the threat of USWNT icon Megan Rapinoe on the right with the Olympique Lyonnais defender constantly snapping at Rapinoe’s heels.
Fowler had a fantastic chance to put Australia ahead after 17 minutes when her header cannoned back off of the cross bar. The Australian pressure continued to mount as Tameka Yallop won a corner from Crystal Dunn and Steph Catley curled a ball in which the USA managed to clear.
The Matildas were calm and professional on the ball, working hard to take the sting out of the USA whenever the World Champions looked to build momentum. There was also more tigerish tackling with Kyah Simon getting in the face of Tierna Davidson to win an unlikely throw in near the box.
America were doing very well in containing Sam Kerr, who was only rarely seen in an attacking threat.
The USWNT did manage to get the ball in the net just after the half hour mark when Alex Morgan was adjudged to be offside when heading a corner past Micah. VAR was called in make a judgement and it took several red lines to make a decision. The goal was ruled out and Australia were very fortunate, as to the naked eye, Morgan looked onside.
There was another opportunity shortly afterwards when Rapinoe went one on one with Micah. The Australian goalkeeper headed clear and referee Anastasia Pustovoitova ruled that the American had fouled the keeper. Rapinoe’s response was to kick the ball towards the goal which earned her a yellow card.
Just before the break, Kerr, in the centre, found Yallop on the right and the former Brisbane Roar star hit an effort which Naeher saved. Each side created a further opportunity apiece before the break. First, Simon’s pressure earned a corner which the USA managed to clear and then former Manchester United star Christen Press hit a shot straight at Micah.
The second half was a real chess match at times, but despite the fact that the USA were seen more from an offensive perspective, Australia still ended the match with 60% possession.
Seven minutes into the re-start and Simon played a lovely ball through to Fowler in the channel. The youngster did well to get a shot away under extreme defensive pressure, but it went wide.
Shortly afterwards, Simon had an effort herself which was blocked by Davidson for a corner.
Rose Lavelle then had a chance when her shot deflected off of Kennedy and into the arms of Micah. Three minutes later, Rapinoe, on a yellow card was substituted after taking out Carpenter with a rumbustious challenge.
Kyra Cooney-Cross came on as a sub for The Matildas and within minutes earned a card herself. The Melbourne Victory teenager lost possession to Lavelle and tracked back rapidly to put in a challenge in a bid to win the ball back. Davidson swung the free-kick in from 30 yards and sub Lindsey Horan headed wide.
The final ten minutes saw Australia working hard at maintaining possession, largely keeping the ball within their own backline to ensure they kept the USA out, and virtually assured their own qualification for the final stages.
There may be some critics who will attack the way the Matildas ended the game, but this was a case of tactics and Tony Gustavsson, for me got it absolutely spot on. Australia were exceptionally well organised, strong defensively and creative offensively. They went toe to toe with the World Champions – albeit a USA side who remain below their best – and played well.
There is clear progression in performance now in every one of the Matildas eight games under the Swede. Things are still not quite where everyone would like to be, but there are real positives, unquestionably. You can’t help but think that Australia will go into their Quarter-Final against Great Britain on Friday confident of winning.
Teams: UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Naeher, Dunn, Davidson, Sauerbrunn, O’Hara, S. Mewis, Ertz, Lavelle, Rapinoe, Morgan, Press. Substitutes used: Heath (for Rapinoe 65), Horan (for S. Mewis 64), Williams (for Press 73), Lloyd (for Morgan 73), K. Mewis (for Lavelle 88).
AUSTRALIA: Micah, Polkinghorne, Kennedy, Carpenter, Logarzo, Catley, Van Egmond, Yallop, Fowler, Kerr, Simon. Substitutes used: Cooney-Cross (for Logarzo 62), Gielnik (for Simon 84)
Referee: Anastasia Pustovoitova (RUS).
Attendance: 1,000 (Covid restricted crowd).