Australia U23 6-0 Malaysia
by Kieran Yap (13/7/22)
Above: Chelsie Dawber (27) celebrates with former Adelaide United clubmate Matilda McNamara after scoring against Malaysia. Sarah Hunter and Amy Sayer (19) are also in shot. Photo: Football Australia.
Australia’s Under 23’s AFF Women’s championship is over, but it ended in style. Mel Andreatta’s team needed a thumping win to have a chance of making the semi-finals and delivered a 6-0 result against Malaysia.
With Thailand and the Philippines facing off at the same time. Australia needed the Philippines to maintain its perfect record to leapfrog Thailand. It was sadly not to be, with that result going 1-0 against the hosts.
This was, however, Australia’s best outing in a string over constantly improving performances. After a tournament where team selection had sometimes been affected by illness, Andreatta was able to name a full squad and bench to face Malaysia.
Chelsie Dawber started alongside Sheridan Gallagher and Amy Sayer in attack. Mackenzie Hawkesby, Sarah Hunter and Leah Davidson formed an attack minded midfield. Jamilla Rankin partnered Matilda Mcnamara in defence, with Chelsea Blissett and captain Charlotte Grant on the flanks.
Australia’s midfield dominance was evident from the start. It was not just that they had the majority of possession. It was forward moving and quick-passing. They shifted the ball with quick triangles and spread it wide to the attackers and roaming fullbacks.
Grant was often seen moving inside to link play. She has been favourably compared to Ellie Carpenter in her career. On this occasion, she was moving like England’s Lucy Bronze.
The opening goal came after Grant, Hunter, and Hawkesby linked up in the middle. Hunter aimed a well-placed lofted pass over the defence towards Dawber. The Chicago Red Star striker still had plenty to do when she received the ball against the touchline. She controlled it and cut inside, burying it from the tightest angle.
Australia’s second was an individual work of art. Malaysia could only partially clear a corner kick and the ball bounced to the right corner of the penalty area. Hawkesby collected it and shifted it past the defender with one touch, then shot with her second.
The strike was practically unsavable. A straight arrow into the top left corner of the net that few keepers could reach from a standing start. Most players would have opened up the angle by cutting inside. Hawkesby did the opposite and unexpected. She found the space amid a sea of players and with perfect technique.
Dawber had her second. Another incisive midfield move resulted in a header crashing off the cross bar from close range. Dawber swept home the rebound and after 24 minutes the Aussies were 3-0 up.
It was almost four just a minute later. Hunter’s perfect through ball for Dawber’s well-timed run created panic for the Malaysian defence. She was brought down the and referee instantly pointed to the spot.
Australia’s relentless momentum was momentarily paused however when Nural Mazlan made a strong low save from the resultant penalty.
The second half added another three goals.
Hawkesby got her second after smooth interplay around the penalty area. Amy Sayer was given time to turn, and she slipped a pass behind the off-side trap. Hawkesby was racing into the space and flicked it past Mazlan with one touch to make it 4-0.
Andreatta turned to the bench and brought on Princess Ibini, Daniella Galic, and Ella Tonkin for Hunter, Dawber, and Blissett.
Ibini impacted the game almost immediately. A signature solo run on the left presented Hawkesby with the easiest of finishes from point-blank range. Ibini’s dribbling had taken her past two defenders and the final ball was on a platter, but it was another well-timed move from the Sydney FC midfielder who arrived perfectly on time and with poise. 5-0.
The sixth and final goal came from a defender. Matilda McNamara stayed up after a corner kick and Tonkin’s deep curling cross was met by the Adelaide United centre-back with a strong header.
It was a dominant, entertaining, and faultless performance from Australia’s Under 23’s. While they may be disappointed to miss out on a semi-final, this tournament has shown the value of the Under 23s and the pathways being developed to the senior squad.
Australia’s best young players were able to either match or outplay the senior squads of the region, either excelling or meeting expectations on each occasion. The loss to Thailand was unlucky and the opening game against the Philippines was a big task against the home side.
Importantly, their performances improved steadily and dramatically throughout the tournament. 16 year old’s like Caitlin Karic and Alexia Apostolakis had the opportunity to show what they might become in future. Mackenzie Hawkesby, Sarah Hunter, and Amy Sayer were able to demonstrate that they can play and dominate at senior international level.
Charlotte Grant’s run as captain was excellent. She stepped up for the senior Matildas against Spain and Portugal and carried that form into the AFF Championships. She was constantly involved in every possible piece of play. Opposition players were clearly wary of her and had few answers.
Grant’s powerful athleticism has been known for some time, but her passing and off-the-ball movement was exceptional. She was virtually an extra midfielder at times.
Leah Davidson and Jynana Dos Santos were both creative and impressive in midfield and Sheridan Gallagher scored the best goal of the tournament so far.
Defensively, Australia were not exposed to the sort of attacks that higher-ranked teams might throw at them, but whoever was selected controlled the game well and played the ball out from the back quickly.
The goals conceded were either unlucky, scrappy, or the result of international inexperience, such as the Thailand equaliser from near halfway. Nothing that cannot be put down to a learning opportunity.
Was the AFF Women’s Championships a successful tournament? The players and coaches would have loved a semi-final and on the strength of their play, they deserved one.
But in terms of providing a valuable and essential development step for the next generation of Matildas, this was a highly encouraging run of games. They looked good, and will still get better.
Teams: AUSTRALIA U23: James, McNamara, Rankin, Hunter, Grant, Davidson, Hawkesby, Gallagher, Sayer, Blissett, Dawber.
Scorers: Dawber 13’, 24’. Hawkesby 20’, 66’, 68’. McNamara 82’.
MALAYSIA: Mazlan, Soberi, Jumillis, Mailu, Singh, Azmi, Justine, Zainal-Abidin, Nordin, Azizan, Aidi.
Referee: Cong Thi Dung (Vietnam).