Matildas take the win with room to improve

Australia 4-0 Czechia

by Ben Gilby (16/2/23)

Above: The Matildas celebrate Hayley Raso’s second-half double. Photo: Football Australia.

Clare Polkinghorne’s strike on the night she became the most capped Matilda of all time sealed Australia’s 4-0 win in Gosford today, as Tony Gustavsson’s side overcome both stubborn opponents and challenging preparations.

The Matildas went into the game only able to run one training session with their full squad, and that was extremely brief, due to their majority European-based squad involved in club football at the weekend.

Australia boss Tony Gustavsson reverted to a 4-4-2 formation that was successful in the October international window wins against South Africa and Denmark. Mary Fowler came in alongside Sam Kerr upfront as Caitlin Foord was feeling a sore quad muscle. Aivi Luik came back into the starting line-up in the absence of Alanna Kennedy.

The Czechs, missing several key players, were well-organised at the back, and happy to let the Matildas have the ball, playing exceptionally deep.

Above: Sam Kerr in possession in the early stages in Gosford tonight. Photo: Guardian.

Kyra Cooney-Cross and Katrina Gorry were creative bundles of energy in the opening exchanges, using their energy and confidence to grab possession, with both seeing early sighters from long-range miss the target.

Australia were using an energetic high press to stifle the visitors in a bid to force them into errors, but on the ball, Gustavsson’s side were far from their free-flowing best in the opening half. It reflected the situation that the squad had to handle with an exceptionally limited preparation time coming into this opening game.

It was all a bit disjointed at times, particularly in midfield. In the opening 45, there were errors in passing, and play was becoming shackled rather than looking to distribute into space, which was something the Matildas did so well during the latter stages of 2022.

Just before the 20-minute mark, Hayley Raso drove to the edge of the box and was brought down by Gabriela Šlajsová. Gorry drove in the free-kick powerfully and the originally offending Czech defender cleared.

Above: Steph Catley driving forward for Australia in the first half today. Photo: ABC.

The European side grew into the game and, with 25 minutes played, a poor defensive clearance fell perfectly for Anna Dlasková to hit a shot that Mackenzie Arnold pushed wide. This was the start of a flurry of chances for the Czechs.

Western Sydney Wanderers’ Jitka Chlastáková had a chance with the most route one style of creativity. Goalkeeper Olive Lukášová cleared long and Anna Dlasková nodded on for Chlastáková, who saw Arnold off her line, but could not lift it over the Australian keeper.

Michaela Khýrová then pounced with great skill after a poor pass from Luik. Khýrová turned away brilliantly and let fly with a shot that Arnold repelled at the right-hand post.

Australia got more flow in the game in the last 10 minutes of the half with one chance created as Steph Catley supplied a high cross in from the left and Raso looped a header over.

Above: Clare Polkinghorne flicks a header goalwards against Czechia. Photo: Guardian.

Matildas boss Tony Gustavsson gave Clare Hunt an international debut at the start of the second half, and within three minutes of the restart, the home side went ahead.

Mary Fowler fed Kerr, and the all-time record Australian top scorer drove diagonally towards the right of the box to play in Raso, who took a touch to flick it onto her shooting foot and then dispatch the ball into the left-hand side of the net.

It got better still eight minutes later as Catley’s corner from the right was headed across goal by debutant Hunt at the far post for Raso to steer a header home.

Australia were now on top and playing patiently looking to add a telling ball through only when ready. With just over 20 minutes to go, a raft of substitutions took place, three each from either side, but the incoming Matildas had an instant impact, as well as the resulting impact of Cooney-Cross being able to play in a more advanced role.

Above: Sam Kerr celebrates after putting Australia 3-0 up. Photo: Guardian.

Larissa Crummer combined to pull the focus of the attack to the right with Chidiac also involved as Raso played in Grant who pulled a ball across which Lukášová pushed away for Chidiac whose effort came back off of Simona Necidová into the path of Kerr who couldn’t miss.

Cooney-Cross’ potential and current impact on the international scene was perfectly highlighted with 84 minutes played. The former Melbourne Victory starlet lost possession inside her own half, but then battled to win the ball back between two defenders and then used her pace to motor away before delivering a centimetre-perfect ball out to Kerr on the left leading to a corner.

Chidiac’s delivery was flicked across by the boot of Raso into the path of Polkinghorne who directed the ball into the net to put the icing on the cake on an important night for the former Brisbane Roar star, who was becoming the most capped Matilda in history.

It was a sweet second half for Australia against a nation who do not habitually suffer heavy defeats like this. Given this result was achieved on the back of such a difficult lead-in, it highlights how far the Matildas have come since those dark days of 2021.

There is still plenty of room for improvement – the midfield battle will need to be won from the first whistle if Australia are to trouble Spain on Sunday – but for now, things continue to move in the right direction.

Above: The Matildas starting line-up prior to kick-off. Photo: Football Australia.

Teams: AUSTRALIA (4-4-2): Arnold, Grant, Polkinghorne, Luik, Catley, Gorry, Cooney-Cross, Vine, Fowler, Raso, Kerr. Substitutes used: Hunt (for Luik 46′), Chidiac (for Vine 68′), van Egmond (for Gorry 68′), Crummer (for Fowler 68′).

Scorers: Raso 48′, 56′. Kerr 70′, Polkinghorne 84’.

CZECH REPUBLIC (4-4-2): Lukášová, Dlasková, Necidová, Bertholdová, Šlajsová, Khýrová, Pochmanová, Cahynová, Chlastáková, Mrázová, Martínková. Substitutes used: Stašková, Růžičková, Veselá, Polcarová, Cvrčková, Černá.

Referee: Asaka Koizumi (JPN).

Attendance: 7,702.

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