To close out a successful international break, the Matildas defeated Chinese Taipei in a dominant win on Wednesday.
The win kept the Aussies’ perfect run intact whilst sending a message to the other qualifiers that they are still a force to be reckoned with on the international stage.
After a one-sided 8-0 victory over the Philippines, the Matildas’ first-place status in Group B looked all sealed with two straight wins and a +10 goal difference. In their final game, they came up against the Chinese Taipei who had a goalless draw with Iran at Optus Stadium last Sunday.
Given that the away side had 17 shots and 66% possession in their last game, there was a chance that the Chinese Taipei could surprise Australia with their performance.
But the Matildas came out victorious three goals to nil, with goals from Mary Fowler, Sam Kerr and Tameka Yallop.
Prior to the game, it was revealed that Cortnee Vine, Ellie Carpenter and Emily van Egmond would not play in the final game of the Qualifiers, as van Egmond and Carpenter were sent back to San Diego Wave and Lyon respectively as per both clubs’ agreement with Football Australia.
Vine was confirmed to have suffered a hamstring injury during her 10-minute cameo against the Philippines.
Although Chinese Taipei kicked off, the Matildas got the ball straight away, with the first threat of the game coming in the first minute, after Sam Kerr beautifully turned in the box but she wasn’t able to keep hold of the ball which went straight to the keeper.
Another chance came for the Aussies early in the fourth minute, when Mary Fowler crossed the ball into Kerr’s feet as she laid it off to Katrina Gorry. But once again, the ball went straight to the keeper after a shot from outside the box.
Chinese Taipei would have their moments when on the attack, as they tried to catch the Matildas on the break.
The Matildas nearly got on the scoresheet in the 14th minute, after a corner was punched away from the opposition goalkeeper, Fowler hit a well-timed volley into the woodwork to a sigh of agony from the Perth crowd.
When the home team was in possession Chinese Taipei went into a low block, with Fowler and Hayley Raso pushing forward, while Steph Catley would invert into midfield from left-back in order to overload the central area.
As time ticked by the low block from the away side proved difficult to break down, as the Matildas had taken the longest time to score a goal in the second round (19th & 15th minute in the previous games respectively).
Another chance presented itself in the 28th minute, as Caitlin Foord played a nice ball to put Fowler through in the box. Fowler cut the ball back to Raso who hit an off-balance shot straight at the keeper.
Just before half-time the Aussies had the best attempt of the game so far, after a ball whipped in from the right flank from Raso but Kerr headed the ball behind the crossbar.
The half ended 0-0, with the Matildas heavily in control with 80% possession and 322 passes as opposed to the 87 passes of Chinese Taipei.
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To start the second half Clare Wheeler and Mackenzie Arnold came off for Charli Grant and Perth goalkeeper Lydia Williams.
Growing in frustration at their inability to break Chinese Taipei down, the Matildas tried firing crosses and taking shots from outside the box, both to no avail. Foord would have a chance in the 58th minute as she skimmed past two defenders before firing a shot at the goalkeeper.
Grant did make a difference on the right-hand side, by overlapping around the defense or carrying the ball from midfield.
In the 61st minute the deadlock was finally broken, as Mary Fowler cut in from the left wing before firing a shot from outside the box that found the top right corner to give the Matildas the well-deserved lead.
In the 67th minute of play, Foord played a nice cross into the box but it was intercepted by the opposition defence. However, after the touch the ball moved away from the goalkeeper as Sam Kerr tapped the ball into an empty net to make it 2-0.
The goal from Kerr was the 900th goal in the Matildas’ history and it makes her the only player in Group B to have scored in all her games. Kerr along with Raso would be replaced by Amy Sayer and Tameka Yallop shortly after.
In the 75th minute, the Matildas started to figure out their opposition. After Katrina Gorry played a ball to Foord, a ball was placed to Sayer to score, before so she cut it back to Yallop who made it 3-0.
Chinese Taipei tried to press the action after conceding the third, which left them a lot more open. After getting the ball from the left wing, Sayer put in a nice cross for Yallop to get onto the end of, but this time the keeper got to the ball first.
For the rest of the game, the Matildas dominated possession in the opposition half and sliced through the away team’s defense a lot easier. After five minutes of added time, the full-time whistle blew with the Aussies maintaining their perfect record in a 3-0 victory.
When speaking after the game, Player of the Match Mary Fowler reflected on the mindset at half-time.
“We had chances in the first half,” Fowler said “It was about remaining patient and going back out there in the second half with the same quality and knowing that we were going to get that goal.”
Fowler was asked about the historic 900th Matildas’ goal scored by Sam Kerr and she had nothing but praise for her teammate.
“That girl just attracts goals,” Fowler said. “To score in every game is amazing.
“…It’s amazing for her to play at home and to have such a good crowd to play in front of, I think she’s just motivating everyone in the team to keep on going because she breaks her own records and wants us to be better”.
Throughout the start of the season, Fowler’s position has had a slight modification for Man City by playing more as a left forward. Now she is operating the same way in the Matildas, the Queenslander is loving her football.
“It’s worked quite well at my club being able to attack a lot more” Fowler told the press, “so being able to try it out here is nice as well, I think I link up with Steph [Catley] and Cait [Foord] quite naturally.
“It’s been fun and I’m lucky to get the chance to do that here.”
With new players getting minutes Matildas Manager Tony Gustavsson was asked about the potential headache that the talent may cause in future team selections.
“It was clear when the FA recruited me to say ‘you need to work on depth’,” Gustavsson revealed.
“…but what I’ve always been clear on is [seeing investment] in terms of pathways for players to come through.
“Because we want even more players to come for those spots and to see more opportunities, whether that’s U23 national team or full-time pro. These are the problems you want to have as a national team coach.
“I’m happy with the development of the team, but I’m not happy about potentially announcing the roster for the Olympics because that will be a very tough job”.
When asked about the difficulty in breaking down tonight’s opponents, Gustavsson had nothing but praise for Chinese Taipei.
“I was extremely impressed with [Chinese Taipei’s] way of defending” Gustavsson admitted.
“I think it was perfect for us that we didn’t get the early goal to be reminded that it is not always going to be like the Philippine games.
“We needed to show maturity and be professional, the thing that can happen in a half like that is that you can get frustrated then you go in at halftime and start yelling… and players go out with insecurity and stress and start lumping balls in the box instead of playing our game.
“After an hour… brilliance from Mary opened things up and if you look at the stats we had the most shots in this game out of all three, the best xG out of all three games and still just three goals. So it was the conversion rate that just wasn’t there”.
The Matildas will play Uzbekistan away on February 24, with the return home leg on February 28, with the winner going through to the Paris Olympics.