Impetus’ Jonathan Tay was in today’s media conference with Young Matildas star Sarah Hunter from their U20 World Cup base in Costa Rica and got a sense of confidence among the squad. He also analyses Hunter’s influence on their opening victory (12/8/22).
Above: Sarah Hunter celebrates after scoring from the penalty spot in the Young Matildas opening game at the U20 World Cup against Costa Rica. Photo: Football Australia.
After this press conference, there was no doubt left how midfielder Sarah Hunter and the Australia camp are feeling right now.
Despite the Young Matildas accepting a late invite to the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, and being placed in a particularly tough group, they’re taking it all in their stride.
“It was the most amazing experience, just electric and pretty crazy”, Hunter summarised, when asked about the opening game. “I can’t stop smiling, it hasn’t sunk in yet, and all the girls are in high spirits.”
Taking on the host nation of Costa Rica, the stadium was raucous after captain Alexandra Pinell’s wonder goal in the 17th minute.
Unnerved, however, the Australians put aside early jitters to ease into an impressive 3-1 win.
“Honestly I didn’t think anything of [the opening goal],” Hunter, 18, brushed off, “Because that was probably the only way they were going to score. We were all pretty confident and unfazed really.”
“Obviously when you’ve got 22,000 people screaming for the other team, it’s a bit daunting. But our group is so strong, and when you’re in that mentality of ‘we are going to win this game’, nothing can faze you, and we were all on that journey together.
“The setback made us stronger and kicked us into gear, and we got better and better during the game.”
The Sydney FC teenager was central to so much of the Young Matildas’ play, that confidence showing through in her converting the penalty to bring Australia back level in the match.
She asserted, “I’ve been the designated [penalty] taker in the lead-up matches and practice games, so I was confident stepping up.”
But it was her overall play in the middle of the pitch – both offensively and defensively – which was impressive, leading her team in progressive passes completed (seven), passes into the final third (eight), and interceptions (eight).
No better example of that all-around action came than in Hunter’s role in the build-up to the second goal, just minutes after the Australians’ first.
With tougher matches ahead against football powerhouses Brazil and Spain, that self-assuredness still doesn’t dwindle.
“Our expectations are based on our performances,” Hunter affirmed. “We want to show all the preparation we’ve done, and how much hard work we’ve put in.
“Each game is an opportunity to show who we are, what we can do as a group and as individuals. We’re really excited to take on whatever comes our way. Pretty much from Day 1 of our preparations, it’s just been the same message: no matter the opposition, we play how we want to play.
“Nothing will really change against Brazil or Spain, because what we’re good at is what we’re good at, and that’s how we’re going to win the game. I know they’re usually the ones keeping the ball but we’re gonna press them hard and hopefully score some goals.
“I’m not scared. I don’t think any of the girls are. We’re just going to put our best foot forward and be confident.”
On a more personal level, she also spoke of how her past injury history helped to sharpen her determination and strive to make the most of every opportunity.
“It was a pretty long period of setbacks,” she recalled. “From when I was 10 until 16, I missed pretty much most of my football; two hip surgeries, a broken ankle, ACL reconstruction all in about six years.
“Being back on the pitch the past two years, I’ve been so grateful. I’ve missed all the Junior Matildas tours, but I never gave up, and had a good support structure with family and friends.
“I’m always learning, each game is an opportunity to get better. That’s ultimately the journey footballers are on…and I think that’s the best feeling.
“Being at a World Cup right now is such a great learning experience. Hopefully when we step into that Senior [Matildas] level we’ll have that experience [to draw from].
“I’ve always had this dream, and I never strayed from it because this is what I love, and nothing was going to stop me. I’ve gone through too much to look back.”
The Young Matildas as a whole are looking forward, confident, and unfazed at taking on the rest of the World.