Great Britain 3-4 Australia
By Ben Gilby
Pictured above: Sam Kerr after scoring Australia’s last gasp equaliser towards the end of normal time. Photo: Getty Images.
The Matildas ran out victors in one of the most dramatic games you could imagine in Kashima.
It was a game that swung this way and that, with incredible comebacks, a missed penalty and two teams giving it everything.
Going into the match, there was talk about the potential defensive difficulties that the sides have experienced and there is no doubt that several of the goals in this encounter fell under the category of less than impressive defending.
Australia started strongly and looked to pass and move at every opportunity. They were looking to target the Team GB back line who had both Steph Houghton and Leah Williamson pushing up together from the back.
The first shot on target came after five minutes when Lauren Hemp was held back by Hayley Raso. Caroline Weir took and found Keira Walsh, but Teagan Micah grabbed the shot.
Great Britain had another opportunity seven minutes later when Hemp broke through and found Rachel Daly, but her effort was over.
Shortly afterwards, Demi Stokes and Hemp combined to play in Walsh whose shot came back off the post. Great Britain hit the woodwork once more on 23 minutes when Daly’s shot hit bar and post with the ball rebounding back to Hemp whose volley was brilliantly saved by Micah.
Australia’s backline saw Aivi Luik return in place of Clare Polkinghorne. Alanna Kennedy retained her spot with Ellie Carpenter at right back once more. Yet one clear difference in the back three set up was the fact that Carpenter was no longer bombing forward to offer her speed in attack as she is wont to do – a tactical change from Tony Gustavsson.
The Matildas became seen more often from an attacking perspective as the game passed the half hour mark with Kerr winning a corner from Stokes.
It was from a corner that the first goal went in, and it was a result defensive frailties rearing their head.
Great Britain struggled to defend a high ball in and, despite the close attention of Demi Stokes and Leah Williamson, who failed to get off the ground, Kennedy rose to head Australia in front after 36 minutes.
Also of concern for the British in the opening half was the fact that White was on the periphery. They would need that to change to get back into the match.
After the break, Australia fashioned another opportunity when Carpenter’s throw found Kerr who shot over.
Gradually though as the game neared the hour mark, Great Britain, largely due to the increased influence of Hemp, became far more threatening.
The Norfolk born striker forced Micah into a save on 56 minutes and shortly afterwards she played a dangerous ball in towards White who beat Kennedy in the air and won a corner from Carpenter.
Great Britain managed to equalise and took advantage of a dangerous ball in from Hemp which was met by White, who got between Kennedy and Carpenter to head brilliantly into the far corner of the net.
Australia came perilously close to levelling the scores on the hour mark when Kerr’s cross was met by the head of Catley and deflected off of Houghton and onto the bar before GB cleared.
Shortly afterwards, Great Britain went ahead when a ball in saw Carpenter beaten in the air. Luik and Kennedy got in each other’s way in trying to clear and the ball fell to White who gleefully smashed her country ahead with 24 minutes left.
Raso was recognising the danger posed by Hemp and put in several important challenges including a magnificent one in the penalty area.
It was all Great Britain now and with ten minutes left, Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson made three changes with Mary Fowler replacing Simon, Emily Gielnik on for Luik and Kyra Cooney-Cross for Foord. This saw Catley drop back to defence.
The Matildas rallied at the death with Carpenter combining well with Kerr who played a lovely ball in for Gielnik but the Swedish based striker blazed wide with four minutes left.
Two minutes later, Chloe Logarzo was introduced for Raso ahead of the first piece of many examples of real drama in this clash.
Catley bent a pass in, Bronze got her head on it, but the ball went to Kerr in the box who chested it down and got a shot away at the second attempt which flew in and scores were level with just over a minute left.
With the game going into extra-time, Britain looked to take advantage of Australia’s more conservative approach at the start of the additional half hour. Walsh wasn’t closed down by the Matildas defence allowing her to get a powerful shot away which Micah did well to hold.
Within sixty seconds, Micah was called into action once more as Fran Kirby dinked a ball over the top for White who was denied by the Australian keeper.
Then came the big moment of the game with five minutes of the first period of extra time played. Nikita Parris went down in the box after a collision with Carpenter and referee Salima Mukansanga pointed to the spot. Up stepped Weir, but Micah read her like a book and saved well.
Just three minutes after the penalty miss, Great Britain slipped behind. A ball forward found teenage striker Fowler. The Cairns born starlet controlled it, turned and smashed a sensational effort which deflected off of Bronze, giving Ellie Roebuck no chance.
Another three minutes passed and Great Britain had their heads in their hands as, despite being three inches smaller, Kerr leapt above Houghton to head past Roebuck to put the Matildas 4-2 up, equalling the all-time Australian women’s goal scoring record in the process with 47.
But, the drama had still not finished. Five minutes from the end, a typically pin point cross from Kirby found White who, once more got between Australian defenders with ease to score and the deficit was just a single goal once more.
Despite Team GB’s best efforts, they could not break through the massed ranks of green and gold as Australia advanced to the semi-finals, their best ever run in the Olympics.
Speaking after the game, Australia’s captain Sam Kerr said: “I can’t explain how proud I am to be a part of this team and to lead this team out. Every day they surprise me.
“We’ve got kids out there, we’ve got Mary (Fowler) who is 18 and I’m just so proud of everyone.
“I haven’t seen some of these girls for two years and then we come out here and we play against teams who have been playing together for so long.
“We feel the love from home and we’re doing everything we can to make you proud. I hope you all felt it today, so let’s go the mighty Aussies.”
The Matildas are improving with every match they play. They are following Tony Gustavsson’s “One Day Better” mantra and are more organised than they have been for a long time. This plus their traditional Never Say Die spirit marks them out as potentially a very good team.
Whether they are good enough to beat Sweden in the semi-finals is another matter, but for now they will enjoy the way they won this match.
Teams: GREAT BRITAIN: Roebuck, Bronze, Houghton, Williamson, Stokes, Walsh, Weir, Daly, Little, Hemp, White. Subs: Ingle (for Walsh 96), Parris (for Hemp 96), Kirby (for Daly 58), Telford (GK), Bright (for Stokes 58), Stanway, Scott (for Little 80).
Scorers: White 57, 66, 115.
AUSTRALIA: Micah, Carpenter, Kennedy, Luik, Raso, Van Egmond, Yallop, Catley, Simon, Foord, Kerr. Subs: Williams (GK), Cooney-Cross (for Foord 80), Polkinghorne (for Cooney-Cross 108), Logarzo (for Raso 88), Fowler (for Simon 80), Gielnik (for Luik 80), Brock.
Scorers: Kennedy 35. Kerr 89, 106. Fowler 93.
Referee: Salima Mukansanga (RWA).