Tough Start Puts Matildas On Back Foot

Australia 0-3 United States of America

Kris Goman was inside Stadium Australia for Impetus and reviews the match and press conferences for us in words and pictures (28/11/21).

Above: Hayley Raso on the charge for Australia as Lindsey Horan looks on. Photo: Kris Goman.

There was a lot going on in this game. The number one ranked USWNT had ventured across the oceans during a pandemic to finally play the 11th ranked Matildas on home soil for the first time in over 21 years – since the Sydney Olympics.

Notably, this is not the USWNT of old. Only six players from the FIFA World Cup-winning team made the trip and only four started. It was a match of new blood on both sides. Also of note, the last time these teams met was at the Tokyo Olympics where the US team beat the Matildas 4-3 in a nail-biter to take the bronze medal leaving Australia with an Olympic high of fourth place but no medal.

Above: Tameeka Yallop (centre) on her hundredth appearance for her country, faces off against Emily Sonnett. Photo: Kris Goman,

While revenge for that loss was on everyone’s minds, it was not to be and the Matildas were defeated by the convincing scoreline of 3-0, however, on the pitch, it was a slightly different story.

During the World Cup, it was the USWNT’s thing to score in the first ten minutes of every match. Ashley Hatch, in her starting debut and only third cap, definitely got that memo and scored 24 seconds in. A bouncing ball sent up by Lynn Williams left debut defender (Matilda #218), Jessika Nash flat-footed and beaten. Hatch dashed around her to pound the ball into the back of the net avoiding Tegan Micah in goal for the Matildas. This was the third-fastest goal ever for the USWNT (Yes, Alex Morgan scored one in 12 seconds once). A disastrous start for the Matildas, leaving the record breaking 36,109 strong crowd in silence.

Australia regrouped and kept the score at 1-0 until the second half. Rose Lavelle missed a couple of very close opportunities early for the USA but generally, Australia looked stronger. The brand new defensive combo of Courtney Nevin and Nash looked a bit tentative at times but Ellie Carpenter was doing her trademarked barnstorming runs up the flanks and getting some good crosses in.

Sam Kerr had a couple of very close calls although Kyah Simon skyed a sitter that Caitlin Foord plonked in her lap right in front of goal. A free-kick late in the half to Foord found her in the clear. She sent a bending ball on target to the goal but Casey Murphy got a hand to it for a spectacular save. There was a bit of bad luck but there was some exceptional keeping from Murphy who was also making her debut for the USWNT.

Above: One of many great stops by USWNT goalkeeper Casey Murphy. Photo: Kris Goman.

Mary Fowler made a lovely run and perfectly timed pass to put Kerr through for a shot on goal that was blocked once more by Murphy. Fowler couldn’t connect with the follow-up and it was cleared safely just before halftime.

Lavelle doubled the score very early in the second half when Midge Purce took the ball right to the goal line and sent it back to Lavelle. One-touch and straight into goal with no mistakes this time. These sorts of moves are what makes Lavelle one of the best players in the world and she looked to be back in World Cup form.

A little later, Charli Grant saved a ball from going out and crossed back to Kerr who got a superb header on target to be caught by Murphy. Kerr was subbed off not long after this so didn’t get the chance to match Tim Cahill’s 50 goal international record. Kerr’s uncle sadly passed away earlier in the week and the team wore black armbands in his honour.

There were some great battles between former Portland Thorns teammates, Emily Sonnet and Caitlin Foord, and Lindsey Horan and Ellie Carpenter. The latter resulted in a penalty when Horan went down at the top of the box during a Carpenter tackle. The crowd clearly didn’t agree with the referee’s decision but Horan calmly slotted it past Micah for the third goal sending the score to a disappointing 3-0.    

Above: Ellie Carpenter (left) catches up with former Portland Thorns team-mate Lindsey Horan post-match. Photo: Kris Goman.

The final serious opportunity came through Fowler once more, with a long-range strike that required every inch of Murphy’s six-foot frame to get a hand to. Murphy had an outstanding debut and ended up getting the USWNT player of the match award. Caitlin Foord won the award for Australia.

In the post-match press conference, Kyah Simon said she thought the game was definitely there for the taking.

“I had a chance myself and as a striker, you pride yourself on scoring goals. I take full responsibility that I should have finished that. The game (would have been) 1-1 at that point and would have changed the momentum of the game and not conceding in the first minute as well. We made it difficult for ourselves.

“We were in the game in the middle but they were more clinical in the final third than we were.” She went on, “We had glimpses of good passages of play. It’s hard when you make it an uphill battle.

“These are the big tests that we need against quality opposition to be exposed and there’s always learnings we can take away from these games and we’ve got another opportunity on Tuesday that I’m sure we can right some wrongs from today.”

Above: Kyah Simon, pictured at her post-match media conference. Photo via: Football Australia

When asked about Casey Murphy’s debut, she related, “We know they’re the world number one and there’s obviously a winning mentality throughout the team that’s been there for years that’s tough to play against. There’s so much quality throughout the US squad that we knew that whatever players were on the park, we knew it would be a tough challenge. In terms of Casey, she’s a presence. I’ve only played against her a couple of times and she’s a presence in her 18-yard box.”

She was asked about the defensive mistakes of the young defenders Nash and Nevin and offered, “To play your debut game against the US, yeah, I can relate as that was my debut game against the US as well and you can only learn from your mistakes. I’ve got over 100 caps and missed that goal so you only learn from your debut to your 100 caps. We all know it wasn’t good enough today but we’ll look ahead to Tuesday and hope it can be a more memorable game.”

There’s some explanation to the performance in the following. “It’s been a really weird week for us as a group, to be honest, There’s been a bit of a bug going around the group so some of us weren’t fit even 24 hours ago and we’ve had a few injuries as well but I’m not one to make excuses. We’ll definitely be in better shape going into Tuesday’s game and closer to being 100% fit and healthy. We have more to give and we will do that on Tuesday.” Given the smirk on her face, as she was describing this and other references to gastro, one could only imagine it was a lot worse than described here.

Upon facing the media, Matildas head coach Tony Gustavsson was initially quizzed on the disappointing scoreline, he said: “Having a start like that and it’s 0-1 and having a debutant being involved, it’s a tough one. What I’m impressed with is that we didn’t let it get to us, especially the young ones and they grew into the game. When something like that can happen, it can go downhill really quick if you’re not strong mentally.

“When I look at the stats after the game, it’s one of those where it’s a really important reminder that the World Cup Final is going to be won and lost inside the 18. We were winning the game in between the boxes.  Look at all the stats. 60% possession v 40%, 505 passes v 303, 71 final third entries v 47, 37 box entries v 24. All those things win the stats but then if you look at the actual finishing they win finishing game by 14-11 and the score by 3-0. So where are games won and lost? It’s how you covert those entries to chances and the conversion rate in scoring. I just think they were much cleaner than us in that area.”

Asked why he partnered youngsters Jessika Nash and Courtney Nevin against the USA he said that “One reason was availability. Neither Polks (Clare Polkinghorne) nor Alana (Kennedy) were available for selection.

Above: Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson speaking to the media post-match. Photo via: Football Australia.

“Another one was we need depth in the backline and we need to look at players and be brave enough to actually get them into these types of games. I’d normally give them ten minutes at the end when you’ve either won or lost the game but those minutes are not the same value as warming up, record crowds, in the stadium that will hold the World Cup Final and if you can deal with that, in that environment, it’s what we need and I’m going to have their back all the time. I didn’t sub her out because of that mistake in the first half. It was a planned sub because Charli was also being really, really good in training and I wanted to see Ellie Carpenter in both roles tonight.”

I asked that after Kyah’s revelation about the bug going through the team, how much did that impact the starting lineup compared to what was planned. He said that “It’s been one of the most challenging camps that I’ve experienced with the preparation with a lot of the players arriving late due to availability to travel after games in Europe. Some players arrived at midnight on Tuesday. And then some players’ unavailability for training so they haven’t really trained as a team like we normally do. Considering that, I’m impressed with how the players approached the game plan, mostly from a defensive point. If you saw, we were man marking, which is a challenge against the US. I haven’t seen many teams have the guts to do it but I threw some challenges at the players and they responded tremendously.”

“The US is the number one team in the world in transition. Look at those two goals they scored. They attack really, really fast and they run a lot. They’ve done that for years and they’re good at it. They beat us twice in transition and that cost us. There’s going to be a lot of learnings tonight in terms of that.”

He said there will still be question marks as to whether more players will be available by Tuesday and they may not know until Monday night or even on the day.

Quizzed once more on the state of defence he said we’ve been in a tumultuous state for a number of reasons Gustavsson said he’s done it before in 2017 with the USWNT when they didn’t have great results that year. He’s patient in this process and he’s done it before.

“I have the belief in this process.  But I also know we have to improve. The Asian Cup is coming up and we want to win that. We have work to do in the short term as well so I hope we can take learnings from tonight and show improvement in the game on Tuesday.”

Teams: AUSTRALIA (4-1-4-1): Micah, Carpenter, Nash, Nevin, Catley, van Egmond, Simon, Yallop, Fowler, Foord, Kerr. Subs: Williams (GK), Beard, Roestbakken, Wheeler, Grant, Raso, Cooney-Cross, Siemsen, Rule.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (4-3-3): Murphy, Fox, Davidson, Cook, Sonnett, Horan, Sullivan, Lavelle, Williams, Hatch, Purce. Subs: Campbell (GK), Huerta, Sauerbrunn, Sanchez, Weaver, Balcer, K. Mewis.

Scorers: Hatch 1’, Lavelle 49’, Horan (pen) 68’

Referee: Hyeon Jeong Oh (KOR)

Attendance: 36,109.

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