29/02/2024

Clare Polkinghorne celebrates for Australia. Photo: The Matildas - Twitter

Following the Matildas win over Brazil on Saturday night. The Inner Sanctum takes a look at the lessons learned from the 3-1 victory.

Tony Gustavsson has been consistent in his message that performance matters even in friendly matches. In the Matildas 3-1 win over Brazil, they managed to accomplish both.

The Inner Sanctum takes a look at the key lessons from Saturday night’s blockbuster match.

Kyra Cooney-Cross is the answer to a lingering question

For almost a generation in Australian women’s football, there has been one option as a deep-lying midfielder, Elise Kellond-Knight.

When the two-time FIFA All-Star was injured or needed at left-back it left the last two Matildas managers with few alternatives.

Emily van Egmond has the technical ability to play in the “number six” role but is far better used upfield. Aivi Luik was a natural in the role defensively but not as creative as “KK” or van Egmond.

The emergence of Kyra Cooney-Cross as an international-level midfield general over the last two matches has given Australia depth and new possibilities.

This is effectively the third position Cooney-Cross has mastered in her still very young career. She began at Melbourne Victory as a quick, dangerous forward and established herself in this role at Western Sydney in 2019.

Her return to Melbourne Victory last season came with evolution into a box-to-box midfielder. She was involved in every aspect of the game. The freedom and responsibility granted by the position allowed her to show off the full range of her skills.

Now with the national team, she sits in front of the defence and uses her passing range and ball control to direct play and control possession.

She is unafraid of a tackle and has the pace to recover from any errors.  It is a high-pressure role to put on a 19-year-old who developed as an attacker but Cooney-Cross has thrived so far.

Her most recent evolution has unlocked new possibilities for how the Matildas set up and approach a game.

Carpenter constructs, destroys and entertains

Currently, Ellie Carpenter remains irreplaceable. There are some players who can defend like her, there are some who can attack like her. None in the Australian setup and few in the world who can do both like her.

There is a reason she was scouted and coached by one of the biggest women’s clubs in the world in Lyon. Her full array of talents were on full display against Brazil.

With the move to a back four, Carpenter was given license to bomb forward on the right. She defended high up the pitch, linked up creatively with Kyah Simon in the first half, and was a menace to any Brazilian who tried to dribble past her.

The introduction of Marta in the second half would unsettle most defenders but Carpenter holds no fear of the former FIFA Player Of The Year.

Across multiple meetings with Brazil, Carpenter seems to relish facing the legendary forward. The feeling seems mutual and a physical clash on the touchline was a flashback to a 2018 encounter.

They seem to look for each other on the field as if each is trying to defeat the other in a test of wills and ability.

Carpenter in many ways epitomizes the prototypical Australian footballer. Hardworking, athletic, skilful, gritty, and attacking. On top of everything she is great fun to watch/

We are in the midst of a player on the verge of becoming a superstar.

Fowler fan club continues to grow

Mary Fowler has gone from potential Matilda to prodigious talent to genuine star in six months of football.

She was given her first start against Germany in April.  Fowler began in midfield where she showed skill with the ball but appeared slightly out of position.

Fast forward just six months and Fowler dominated in the middle against Brazil.

Mary Fowler has the confidence to demand the ball under pressure. She has the skill to control it, turn into space, and pass. In her best moments, multiple opposition players are taken out of the play with two or three Fowler touches.

Like Cooney-Cross she is evolving into a new role for Australia. Her form and growth have given Tony Gustavsson new options in midfield and also in attack where she has been so impactful recently for club and country.

If her recent goals for Australia have been slightly fortuitous, there was no luck involved in her finish against Brazil on Saturday.

She ghosted to the far post to meet a perfectly weighted van Egmond cross. Her head was placed back across goal in textbook style. It was a calm finish to give Australia a vital two-goal cushion and her third in two games for Australia.

Fowler gets better with every appearance as a Matilda. For a team often criticized for being over-reliant on Sam Kerr to score, this is an exciting new chapter.

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Emily van Egmond’s talent defies logic

The first player mentioned in this piece to not technically be eligible for a youth side. Emily van Egmond was at her best against Brazil.

She only played the second half of the match but basically decided the result. She is no stranger to match-winning moments at Bankstown stadium. However, this performance was remarkable given she has not played for club or country since the Olympics.

Van Egmond had lost none of the magic in the intervening time. A pinpoint cross for Fowler to score was followed by a cool low finish to make it 3-1 and seal victory for Australia.

Her lack of match fitness may mean her minutes are again restricted on Tuesday night. But the sight of van Egmond warming up on the sidelines will not be a welcome sight for the Brazilian defenders.

Sam Kerr does not have to score to impact a match

Sam Kerr is only two goals away from becoming Australia’s all-time leading scorer in men’s or women’s football.

For the opening goal against Brazil, she demonstrated that her deadly reputation could make space for others.

A perfectly executed set play resulted in a goal for one of the great celebrators, Clare Polkinghorne. Steph Catley’s curled free-kick was met by Kerr who nodded back across the goal for the centre back to tap home.

What made the move possible was that three defenders and the goalkeeper were drawn to Kerr. All eyes were on the Australian captain and Polkinghorne was allowed a free run at the ball as a result.

It will not work all the time against all teams but it was a clever way to use a star striker.

Her presence worried and disrupted the Brazil defence. Kerr was kept relatively quiet for the majority of the match but her contribution was vital in setting up the win.

Australia will play Brazil again on Tuesday night in the final game of the series.

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