Australia 3-4 United States of America
By Ben Gilby
Above: America’s goal scorers Carli Lloyd and Megan Rapinoe celebrate. Photo: Getty Images
The USA claimed the Bronze Medal with a stereotypical merciless punishment of Australian errors in a hugely entertaining game in Kashima.
This was the most USWNT like performance of the competition by Vlatko Andonovski’s team, but they were still seriously tested by a Matildas side who showed their trademark ‘Never Say Die’ spirit to come from 4-1 down to trail by a single goal going into stoppage time.
Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson named a starting line-up showing just one change from the semi-final loss to Sweden, reflecting Ellie Carpenter’s suspension after receiving a late red card. Clare Polkinghorne came in to start, with her own place on the bench from the semi-final taken by 19 year-old Western Sydney Wanderers defender Courtney Nevin.
For the US, Megan Rapinoe was recalled to the starting line-up against fellow American women’s football icon Carli Lloyd, and the consequences of that decision were clear for all to see as the game progressed.
The Matildas began on the front foot, and in the first minute, Kyah Simon found Emily Van Egmond who lifted a shot just over the bar.
Tameka Yallop continued from where she left off against Sweden with a hugely influential opening to the game.
America fashioned their opening opportunity when former Manchester United player Christen Press hit an effort which Teagan Micah did well to save.
Just seconds later though, Micah was beaten. Megan Rapinoe stood over the ball for a corner on the left hand side and viciously curled it straight into the far right hand corner of the net. Australia were punished for not putting a defender on the back post.
There will be some who will claim that Lloyd may have slightly obstructed Micah as the ball came in, but regardless it was a phenomenal effort by a great player.
The USA consolidated their lead by continuing to press. The Matildas were missing the outlet provided by Carpenter’s pace on the right but also her presence defensively.
Yet, regardless, Australia were level within nine minutes of Rapinoe’s strike. Caitlin Foord came through the centre and played an intelligent ball outside to Sam Kerr who hit a first time shot across US keeper Adrianna Franch and into the far corner of the net.
In the process Kerr became The Matildas all-time leading goal scorer, overtaking Lisa De Vanna with 47 goals in 97 games. The Chelsea star is now only three goals from drawing level with Tim Cahill in the all-time Australian National Team goal scoring record chart.
Two minutes later the pair combined again with Kerr’s header saved by Franch.
The USWNT took advantage of this let off and went on to punish Australia for another defensive miscue. Alanna Kennedy could only slice her clearance of Press’ ball into the box into the path of Rapinoe who hit a spectacular first time volley into the net to restore America’s lead.
Australia rallied around the half-hour mark winning corners as a result of the hard work of Foord, Catley and Yallop, but they couldn’t quite manufacture an equaliser.
Ahead of the break, Micah was called into action once more as Yallop lost possession to Press. She in turn found Lloyd but the Australian keeper was equal to it.
There was an anxious moment three minutes before half-time when VAR was called in to check on a potential penalty for the USWNT. Kennedy swung at the ball and looked to make contact with Rapinoe marginally before the ball, but claims of a spot kick were swept away.
Yet, the USA still went into the break ahead after taking advantage of another miscue at the back by The Matildas. Simon lost possession and the ball came through to Lloyd who shot across Miach to put her country 3-1 ahead at the break.
Six minutes into the second period it was 4-1 and, again it was the result of disappointing defending. A long ball was played through and Kennedy, standing around 25 yards from goal headed back towards Micah, but failed to put enough power on the ball which allowed Lloyd to step in and pounce to score her second of the game.
Australian spirit was in evidence as they reduced the deficit to two goals just three minutes later as Simon’s ball over to Foord was nodded across Franch and in for 4-2.
Shortly afterwards things almost got even better for The Matildas when Simon found Raso on the right. The Everton star’s cross was met by the head of Kerr, but the ball agonisingly rebounded back off of the left hand post, rolled behind Franch and deflected off of the US keeper’s boot for a corner.
Press had two opportunities to end the game as a contest but on both occasions shot for goal when the better option was to lay off a pass to team mates who were in space.
Tony Gustavsson shuffled his pack, bringing on four substitutes in two spells with 17 minutes to go. It was the usual introduction of Mary Fowler, Kyra Cooney-Cross and Emily Gielnik plus the additional Olympics debut for Nevin. Two nineteen year-olds and an eighteen year-old emphasising just how bright the future is for The Matildas.
The substitutions necessitated a reshuffled formation for Australia with Nevin going in a centre-back, Yallop at right back and Catley on the left as Fowler would go to partner Kerr up front.
Once more the changes spurred a recovery for the Matildas. With a quarter of an hour left, Catley found Kerr who was expertly held off by Tierna Davidson at the expense of a corner. Once more Catley curled the set piece in and Kerr’s header was well saved by Franch who was under pressure from Van Egmond.
Fowler showed her immense skill with a wonderful turn and then inch perfect ball down the right for Gielnik.
Into the last ten minutes, Australia continued to push for a goal. Tobin Heath fouled Cooney-Cross on the left, just inside the American half. Catley’s high free kick was flicked on by Kerr and Yallop followed up with an effort off of the outside of her boot which was saved.
With 87 minutes on the clock, USA’s Rose Lavelle pulled a low ball across the box which her fellow sub Alex Morgan couldn’t quite reach.
Laura Brock was then introduced for her final Matildas appearance in place of Yallop.
As the game moved into stoppage time, Australia’s inability to know when they were beaten showed once more. The Americans lost possession and Foord released Gielnik who galloped through the midfield and unleashed a power driver from outside of the box which flew into the far corner to reduce the deficit at 4-3.
Into the sixth minute of stoppage time, Kennedy won a throw. Cooney-Cross’ ball in was punched by Franch for Fowler who went in for a shot which deflected off of Emily Sonnett. Rather than award a corner or a free kick for what appeared to be a foul on Catley by Kelley O’Hara in the build-up, referee Laura Fortunato blew the final whistle.
Whilst the USWNT will go home with the bronze medal despite only winning two of their six games in the Olympics (the success over the Netherlands in the Quarter-Finals came via penalties after a 2-2 score line after extra time), conversely Australia will leave the Games medal less but with huge pride.
They are at the beginning of a very exciting journey ahead of next year’s AFC Asian Women’s Cup, 2023’s World Cup (on home soil) and the following year’s Paris Olympics. This Matildas team are only going to get better.
Teams: AUSTRALIA: Micah, Polkinghorne, Kennedy, Catley, Raso, Van Egmond, Logarzo, Yallop, Simon, Kerr, Foord. Subs: Williams (GK), Cooney-Cross (for Logarzo 67), Luik, Fowler (for Simon 67), Gielnik (for Polkinghorne 73), Nevin (for Raso 67), Brock (for Yallop 87).
Scorers: Kerr 17, Foord 54, Gielnik 90
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: Franch, Dunn, Davidson, Sauerbrunn, O’Hara, Horan, Ertz, S. Mewis, Rapinoe, Lloyd, Press. Subs: K. Mewis, Heath (for Rapinoe 61), Morgan (for Lloyd 81), Sonnett (for Press 85), Lavelle (for S. Mewis 61), Dahlkamper, Campbell.
Scorers: Rapinoe 8, 21. Lloyd 45+1, 51.