The stadium was covered in green and gold, with barely a single Danish fan in sight as the Matildas continued to etch their way towards a World Cup final berth on home soil, defeating Denmark 2-0.
Tony Gustavsson’s patience with attacker Caitlin Foord has paid off.
After struggling to capitalise on 12 total shots in the opening three games – the second most behind Alex Morgan – born and bred Sydney forward Caitlin Foord took the pressure off herself and the Matildas just before the half-hour mark.
Finally slotting the ball into the back of the net in front of her home fans, Foord couldn’t have delivered a better strike, hitting it cleanly and elegantly under the legs of Danish goalkeeper Lene Christensen.
The goal seemed to lift the Matildas’ intensity, an area they were lacking in the first third of the game. They looked eager to double their lead, whether it was playing more difficult passes, taking on their opposition in the midfield, or attempting shots from long-range.
Growing up two hours south of the Sydney CBD, there couldn’t have been a better way to claim her maiden 2023 World Cup goal in front of the state where her footballing career began all those years ago.
After the match, Caitlin Foord praised her teammate Mary Fowler, after her magnificent passing game led to the two goal-scoring opportunities.
“I think Mary’s been class this whole tournament,” Foord said after the game.
“You know when she’s on the ball that she’s going to create and get a shot off or score a goal, and that makes my job a lot easier.
“I know if I find her in the box then nine times out of 10 it’s going in the back of the net. She’s an unbelievable talent and we’re lucky to have her.”
The continued opportunities created by the Matildas meant it wouldn’t take them long to find their second goal. A sublime pass by Mary Fowler would find Emily van Egmond in the penalty box, who just needed to deliver a soft touch to the roaming Hayley Raso. With the crowd cheering behind her, Raso easily drilled the ball into the back of the net, reminiscent of her brace against Olympic champions Canada last week.
In what was only the second time Australia had won a World Cup knockout game from seven attempts, Raso’s goal clinched the victory for the Matildas, as they etch closer to world champion status.
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As the game seemed buried, Sam Kerr would finally make her first 2023 World Cup appearance entering the field in the 80th minute, a substitution four games in the making. However, the hearts of the 75,784 fans would momentarily sink towards the end of regulation time as she fell to the ground, taking her time get back up.
“I just slipped … like a normal thing,” Sam Kerr revealed post-match. “I think it’s just on a microscope because I’ve been injured the last three weeks, but (it was) nothing.”
Tony Gustavsson also spoke about the incident in the post-match press conference.
“I got very nervous. I didn’t see the slip until she was on the floor. But when I saw that, obviously you go ‘ugh’,” he stated
The Danes worried the Matildas at times throughout the 90 minutes but were unable to place themselves on the scoresheet. Former A-League attacker Rikke Madsen was just one individual who could have been more successful in taking her chances for Denmark. Playing on the left wing, Madsen was inches away from getting boot to ball in the ninth minute from a low-driven cross.
Another individual that caused havoc for the Australian was Sam Kerr’s former Chelsea teammate Pernille Harder. Harder looked to be the key target for the Group D runner-up but couldn’t get anything past MacKenzie Arnold.
Earning a Quarter-Final showdown with either France or Morocco, the Matildas once again showed they could win without Sam Kerr, who entered the game after it was truly over. The Australian superstar will have a further five days to recover from a calf injury that has only seen her play limited minutes of the World Cup.