16/04/2024

Sam Kerr. image @TheMatildas twitter

Unlucky goals, a defensive lapse, and some scintillating attacking football made for an entertaining 2-2 draw between The Matildas and Brazil. The Inner Sanctum looks at Tuesday’s rematch.

Unlucky goals, a defensive lapse, and some scintillating attacking football made for an entertaining 2-2 draw between The Matildas and Brazil.

The Inner Sanctum looks at the key points to emerge from Tuesday’s rematch.

Attack and entertainment was paramount

Following Saturday’s 3-1 win, Australia entered this rematch full of confidence and but Brazil started with a much stronger lineup as superstars Marta and Debhinha were named in the starting lineup.

Debinha has 44 goals to her name for the national team while Marta has a staggering 112 goals to go with her six Ballon D’or’s.  This was poised to be a show as much as a contest.

It was an end-to-end game and both sides were eager to score. Defensive efforts were high but defensive tactics were non-existent from both coaches.

Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson predicted as much before the first game. He was preparing his team and the fans for a match that would have a lot of space. Both sides took advantage of this in different ways for the second encounter.

“It’s great entertainment,” Gustavsson said post match.

“I think there probably were some nerves watching this game but I love these types of football games.

“Obviously I want to go (away) as a winner, especially when we’re winning 2-0 but I do think a tie was fair, to be honest, looking at 90 minutes.”

Australia jumped out to a two-goal lead before goals to Erika and Debinha leveled the scores. Despite the best efforts of both sides, it remained level at the final whistle.

Brazil’s equalizer was a combination of misfortune and dedication. A mishit cross nearly beat Lydia Williams at the near post. Her save fell for Debinha who raced to score and was clattered into the post for her trouble.

“I was set up for a cross,” Williams reflected post-match.

“Then it came off the boot and was heading for the top corner so it turned into save…As a goalkeeper you kind of roll with the punches I guess.”

Australia’s two goals were of exceptional quality. Clare Polkinghorne volleyed home in the 10th minute from close range. However, it was Sam Kerr’s second-half finish that had the coach delighted.

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A move that started at left-back saw Steph Catley cut the ball infield to Mary Fowler, she moved it on to Ellie Carpenter who surged forward. The right-back exchanged passes with Kyah Simon before feeding Kerr in the box.

Kerr’s 49th goal for Australia was at the end of one of the best moments of the Gustavsson era. It was a free-flowing quick passing move from end to end.

“We gave the ball away a lot in the final third,” Gustavsson said of his attack

“But… and this is a big but, if you look at the second goal we scored that’s exactly what we’re working on… Straight from the training ground.

“That type of combination play is something we’re working on a lot and saying the players need to be more confident in the final third because we know we have the quality.

“We know we can be a good crossing team with Sam Kerr, and we still want to play crosses when it’s on. But when it’s not, we need to have more variation and more quality in the final third.”

More opportunities for the new faces

Kyra Cooney-Cross and Mary Fowler again started on the field. Both players had moments of brilliance, in particular with their long passing and switches of play.

Fowler almost added to her growing goal tally when she danced through the Brazilian defense but her shot crashed off the woodwork.

Cooney-Cross was less dominant than in her first game. She was excellent on the ball but was swarmed defensively by an aggressive Brazilian midfield. Clare Wheeler fared better defensively in the second half.

“I think this game shows she still has some work to do at international level when it comes to tempo,” Gustavsson said of Cooney-Cross’ performance.

“It’s just a natural evolution of her international career.

“She has the technique she has the game understanding she has the physically it’s just getting used to the tempo.”

The Melbourne Victory star was playing just her third match of her entire career as a deep-lying midfielder. Across both Brazil games, she has established herself as a highly valuable member of the squad moving forward with both the Asian Cup and World Cup on the horizon.

Courtney Nevin, Angela Beard, and Bryleeh Henry all came on in the second half.

The game was still very much in the balance and at the height of intensity, Gustavsson feels it is the best way to develop the new players.

“If we really want to vet the depth of this roster we also need to have the confidence to throw them in in a pressure cooker.”

He was especially impressed with Courtney Nevin’s efforts in defense. Neither the occasion nor opposition unnerved her.

“We kind of had a whole revamp of the left side when I came on,” defender Angie Beard said.

“Myself Courtney Nevin and Bryleeh… Tony just said bring your energy, be strong …bring a loud voice and a loud presence on the field.

“I think we all did it fairly well. It was a very hard game it was very intense.

“I think I did ok, I did a slide tackle on Marta,” she continued, describing it in a dream-like fashion.

“That’s honestly something that I can’t even put into words.

“The feeling you get being out here is honestly indescribable…even just the love and support the  Matildas feel. 

“I knew of it because that’s the love and support I gave the girls before I was here. But just feeling it, it takes my breath away.”

Polkinghorne outstanding amongst the world’s best

Clare Polkinghorne has been doing a job for the national team for over a decade. She has been a regular starter since the 2010 Asian Cup and has rarely played a poor game.

In the two games against Brazil, she was exceptional, serving as a reminder of her considerable talent despite being the oldest in the lineup.

Her opening goal was a thing of beauty. A cushioned volley after a ball bounced to her from a corner.

Minutes later she was clearing it off the line from a dangerous Tamires cross.

“Polks” reads the play perfectly at either end of the field and executes perfectly.

As a defender, she will be disappointed with the first goal conceded, an open header six yards out from a corner.  However, the entire team will feel responsible for that.

Polkinghorne often goes unnoticed in comparison to the more spectacular players in the team. But she is ever-present, consistent, and composed.

She might be 32 years old but has lost nothing in terms of her ability as her years advance. Gustavsson is clearly an admirer. He praised her longevity and commitment post-match.

“First and foremost when it comes to Polks, she is one of the most professional athletes I’ve worked with,” Gustavsson said.

“The way she takes care of her body, the way she’s focused in training the way she wants to get one day better every single day. That’s one of the reasons she can perform like she does.”

It might not have been a perfect match for Australia, but the young players are developing and the senior players are in strong form.

There were goals,  debuts, big crowds, and huge moments.  Overall, the return of international football to Australia was a roaring success.

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