The scene was set wonderfully for a Sunday evening showdown in Sydney’s west as the Matildas took on Spain in the Cup of Nations.
A bumper crowd, high quality opposition, a chance for revenge, and a reason to celebrate. The Matildas undertook a pride activation during the match as part of their partnership with Sydney World Pride, which is being celebrated during February.
Tony Gustavsson made two changes to his starting 11, with Caitlin Foord stepping back in for Mary Fowler. After an impressive second-half debut, Australia’s newest Matilda, Clare Hunt was given her starting debut, replacing Aivi Luik.
In the game against Czechia, Gustavsson noted that the side did not look great in the first half, which was corrected for the second half as they ran out 4-0 winners.
Against Spain, it was a completely different story as the tempo was at full force from the start and it resulted in a 2-0 lead for the hosts just 16 minutes in. Cortnee Vine would find the back of the net with a goal of the tournament contender and Clare Polkinghorne adding the second not long after.
Revenge was well and truly on the cards for the home side, although it was a much stronger side than the one who faced the Spaniards in Spain last year.
Despite the best efforts of Mackenzie Arnold, who made a multitude of fantastic saves, she was unable to keep a clean sheet in the 3-2 win for the Australians.
“First of all, I’m extremely happy for Macca’s game, it’s so well deserved,” Gustavsson said.
“The number one reason I’m so happy for her is because of the teammate she’s been throughout these two years.
“She’s had a very tough situation where she had times, even had performed well, very good club football, and I still had played some other goalkeepers.
“I made a tough decision in the Olympics if you remember.
“Tegan [Micha] had zero caps when I came on board. She played one game against Sweden, that’s her first cap and then she was the starting goalkeeper almost through the whole tournament in the Olympics except Lydia [Williams] when I wanted experience in the opening game.
“So in that sense I’m extremely happy for Macca cause she has brought the club form, and again, this is not what we’ve done, this is what she’s done in club, and she’s brought it in to national team.
“She had in the past, and this is her own words, maybe ‘not been able to bring the club performance into [the] national team environment’, This camp she has.
“I think she’s grown mentally and physically to be able to bring that.”
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As part of the match, the Matildas players had the progress flag on their back of jersey numbering, while Gustavsson had a World Pride lapel pin and brightly coloured glittery shoes on to mark the occasion.
For the coach, it’s about connections.
“I’m just proud to be part of the federation and the team that is very clear of their values,” Gustavsson said.
“If you look at the 11 principles and you look at the history of this team and what they stand for and I’m just a small part of the longer journey of what this team is all about and we talked about today that connection.
“You know, being connected was going to be the key to win against Spain. I mean, connected in defending, connecting in attacking and do this as a team.
“And this is a way also for me to connect with the players on the field with those shoes cause we need to do it together, from the sideline, from the stands, on the pitch, like, this is so much more than 90 minute football.”
For Sam Kerr, it was about excitement and team unity.
“We’re really excited about it, really proud about it,” Kerr said when asked to describe how it feels for her and the team.
“We have such an inclusive team. Always have, and probably always will be. So it was something that we were really excited about.
“I think the response has been great, they look great, and I think it’s always nice for the team to kind of stand in unity and show that we’re all together and stand with all those types of communities that maybe don’t get seen as much as they should do.”
“It’s really special for us,” Katrina Gorry said post-game.
“We’re really proud to represent the pride today, and I think it’s been a long time coming for us footballers.”
Caitlin Foord echoed those sentiments.
“I think it’s awesome and to obviously have it on a national team jersey, we’ve done it at club [level] and stuff like that but I think it feels a bit different to support it here in Australia and to have that on our back on home soil as well, it’s just a nice little touch to these games.
“I think we were all pretty happy and excited about it. I didn’t want to give my jersey [away] cause it had it on it, but lucky I’ve got two.”
The Matildas will now turn their attention towards Jamaica in the final match-day of the Cup of Nations as they look to remain undefeated across the last three international windows.
While Jamaica looked uninspiring against Spain, they looked much more lively in a 3-2 loss to Czechia on match-day two, and in cooler conditions on Wednesday night, they could prove a tough test for the Matildas.
“I think it’s a really good test run for the World Cup,” Kerr said.
“This would be Canada, this is to top the group. Of course at the end of this we can lift a trophy, but we see it as finishing top of the group too.
“[It] sets us up for a nicer World Cup run rather than facing the likes of maybe England.
“This is an important game. We’re not going to take the foot off the gas. We’re going to prepare like it’s Canada.”
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