Australia 3-2 Spain
by Ben Gilby (19/2/23)
Above: There was so much for the Matildas to celebrate today against Spain. Photo: Football Australia.
The Matildas produced a highly impressive performance combining attacking flair with defensive organisation to earn a 3-2 victory over Spain in Parramatta today.
Spain had more possession and shots, but it was the first-half display of determination, energy, and vibrancy in attack that ultimately proved to be the difference as Australia continued their run of consecutive victories to six.
The second half saw Tony Gustavsson’s side have to dig in and work hard. They were under the pump at the back and with Mackenzie Arnold, who has had a tough run in goal for the national side pulling off a string of impressive saves, Spain were not able to complete the comeback.
It has to be reiterated that this a result that comes with a pretty major caveat. Since the European Championships, almost 20 players have refused to play for Spain under national coach Jorge Vilda – their hugely talented Barcelona cohort amongst them – this means that until the issue, which has never quite been publicly identified, is sorted out, the European giants are forced to field a hugely under-strength squad.
Under-strength they might be, but the highly technical approach to the game with rapid passing skills, and forceful attacking play which is a joy to behold is still there and poses major challenges for opponents to break down. That Australia did that is a major feather in their cap going into further tactical challenges in the World Cup.
Matildas head coach Tony Gustavsson highlighted in his pre-match media conference on Saturday that if his side were to go toe-to-toe with Spain, they needed to match the European side’s tempo, and remain collectively alert at the back to reduce the impact of Spain’s fast-moving play. The Matildas did that in spades.
Western Sydney Wanderers captain Clare Hunt was given a starting spot in defence after her impressive debut from the bench against Czechia on Thursday, and she had another excellent display.
Spain imposed their game from the start. With six minutes played, Alba Redondo burst through and hit a side foot shot which Mackenzie Arnold looked to be dealing with well before the offside flag went up.
The Matildas were playing an intelligent defensive line, catching the Spanish offside twice in succession, but the renowned one-touch rapid passing play was pulling Australia’s midfield around in the early stages, with Esther and Redondo both hugely impressive. Green and gold shirts were looking to rapidly press, but in these early stages, such was Spain’s confidence on the ball, they were able to pass their way out of the press.
Yet that all changed – and how.
With 11 minutes on the clock, Charli Grant, who put in another magnificent shift, found Hayley Raso on the right wing. The Manchester City attacker cut inside and laid a low pass across the outside of the box for Cortnee Vine. The Sydney FC star turned and hit a sensational rocket of a shot into the top of the net. Seeing Vine transfer the skills that she displays so often in the A-League Women to the international game is a reward for so much hard work over such a long period of time.
The Matildas grew visibly in confidence with Vine’s stunner, and within four minutes doubled their lead. Steph Catley delivered a corner from the right, the play was eventually recycled with Raso playing the ball in, Sam Kerr flicked a header which Marta Carro failed to deal with, and Clare Polkinghorne pounced to direct the ball home.
Australia were flying and playing an energetic attacking game with confidence coarsing through their veins. The Spaniards were forced into a formation change, moving to five at the back.
Kyra Cooney-Cross continued her creative trajectory with eight minutes of the half to play. She received possession from Raso and played in a centimetre ball in for Kerr to direct a trademark header into the net. Celebrations were cut short by an offside flag, but replays showed that decision to be highly contentious.
Within two minutes though, the third goal arrived. Raso was fouled on the edge of the box on the right hand side. Catley stepped up 20 yards from goal and floated the free-kick in for an unmarked Caitlin Foord to head home.
Spain rang the changes at the break, bringing on Sheila García and Fiamma Benítez and both were impressive in the early exchanges of the second 45 as they combined to give Jenni Hermoso an early opportunity.
Spain were flooding balls into the Australian box with Kerr forced back to defend. It meant that the Matildas were forced onto counter-attacking play, with Cooney-Cross a major part of those drives.
Arnold saved Australia on the hour mark when a flowing move saw Irene Guerrero combine with Sheila García who threaded a stunning ball into the path of Redondo whose effort was repelled by the West Ham United shot-stopper.
With The Matildas deploying a line of six as a backline when Spain were in possession, the Europeans were patient and looked to probe to provide the final ball. The home side broke clear with Grant released and pulling a ball across for Foord to tuck home, but Katrina Gorry was offside.
Spain got a goal back with 17 minutes to play. A corner on the right found its way to Sheila García who fed Olga Carmona who fired in a superb half-volley.
The visitors had another opportunity shortly afterwards when newly arrived substitute Salma Celeste Paralluelo Ayingono showed her sprinting prowess with her first touch and danced into the box before letting fly.
Spain continued to dominate the possession, and got a second goal back deep into second-half stoppage time. Marta Cardona had the ball on the right and cut back a pass for Alba Redondo to fire home a superb first-time volley.
Whilst Spain pushed in the little remaining time, they could not find a leveller. Australia ran out impressive winners.
Yes, there is a caveat with this result in terms of Spain’s squad availability, but this will generate a huge amount of confidence and pride. The Matildas found a way to break down a highly technical opponent. They showed how strongly organised they are at the back now – something that was their major Achilles heel not so long ago. Things continue to move in the right direction.
Teams: AUSTRALIA (4-2-3-1): Mackenzie Arnold, Charlotte Grant, Clare Hunt, Clare Polkinghorne, Katrina Gorry, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Hayley Raso, Caitlin Foord, Cortnee Vine, Sam Kerr. Substitutes used: Larissa Crummer, Emily van Egmond, Courtney Nevin, Elise Kellond-Knight, Alex Chidiac.
Scorers: Vine 11′, Polkinghorne 16′, Foord 42′.
SPAIN (3-4-1-2): Misa Rodríguez, Ivana Andrés, Rocío Gálvez, Laia Codina, Olga Carmona, Marta Carro, Irene Guerrero, Oihane Hernández, Jenni Hermoso, Alba Redondo, Esther González. Substitutes used: Sheila García, Fiamma Benítez, Salma Celeste Paralluelo Ayingono, Marta Cardona.
Scorers: Olga Carmona 73′, Alba Redondo 90+4′.
Referee: Yoshimi Yamashita (JPN).