Matildas draw 1-1 with China after Michelle Heyman’s stoppage-time equaliser

The Matildas’ final preparations for the Paris Olympics have got off to a rusty start after a scrappy 1-1 draw with China in Adelaide on Friday.

Australia’s coach Tony Gustavsson fielded a largely experimental line-up for the opening hour of the Adelaide Oval fixture, but they were upstaged by the reigning Asian Cup champions, with a well-organised and disciplined China keeping the Matildas shotless for the first half.

And while a sell-out 52,912 people had packed in to see the Matildas strut their stuff, they were instead silenced in the 30th minute after Chinese winger Zhang Linyan opened the scoring, volleying home a cross from Central Coast Mariners winger Wurigumula.

But veteran striker Michelle Heyman came to the rescue in stoppage-time of the first half, tapping in from a goal-mouth scramble after a Mary Fowler free kick was fumbled by China’s goalkeeper.

Before the match, Gustavsson said he remained undecided on four spots for the 18-woman squad to contest the Paris Olympics starting in late July. The team’s starting XI reflected his need to test out those peripheral players, beginning without big guns Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley, Ellie Carpenter, Hayley Raso and Kyra Cooney-Cross.

But the team that started the game struggled to break down a tightly-packed Chinese defence, and regularly coughed up possession before being punished by quick transitional counter-attacks.

While the momentum of the game began to swing after five senior players were substituted on in the 60th minute, winger Caitlin Foord lasted just 15 minutes, leaving the field after being felled in a tackle, despite appearing in no great discomfort.

Following a tepid opening 29 minutes, China struck on the half-hour when a fast break down the right flank left Australia’s Kaitlyn Torpey sprawled in the grass after grappling with powerful striker Wurigumula.

As the pair jostled, Torpey slipped and fell to ground — replays showed a slight tug on her jersey from her opponent — while Wurigumula was quick to recover from the contact, her follow-up cross into the box deflected into the path of Zhang, who scored with a reflex right footer.

After half time, Australia showed far greater attacking intent and almost had a reward in the 56th minute when Cortnee Vine swung a cross into the box.

The ball landed near Fowler who was set to pull the trigger and shoot, but advancing China keeper Xu Huan knocked the ball away. Six minutes later, Gustavsson made five substitutions, summoning Catley, Foord, Raso, Carpenter and Kyra Cooney-Cross.

The injection of the Matildas mainstays had instant impact, with the Australians crafting a series of scoring chances through Raso and Fowler, though a scrambling China kept the Matildas scoreless.

But in a bizarre series of events in stoppage time, where Australia won a free kick just outside China’s penalty spot after the goalkeeper slid out to collect an innocuous ball only to hand-ball it and give a set piece away, a powerful striker by Fowler was fumbled by Xu and duly poked home by Heyman.

The Matildas meet China again in Sydney on Monday night and Gustavsson will announce his Olympic squad the following day.

Check out how the game unfolded in our live blog below.

Key events

See you Monday!

I still think Heyman’s (and Fowler’s) issues tonight were more about distribution. They both should be on the plane to Paris. But maybe those in midfield (who aren’t feeding through enough quality ball) should be a bit worried – they need to step up and do better in the next leg.

– Ingrid

I think tonight that those who are already locked in to the Olympic squad are there for a reason…not sure any of the questions Tony had about the remaining four players were really answered tonight

– Tania

I think we’re all on the same page about tonight’s game: the Matildas definitely didn’t show enough against China to convince us of anything, so they’ll really need to step it up in the second match in Sydney on Monday to settle out nerves about their readiness for the Olympics.

We’ll have a match report out shortly, but for now, thanks so much for engaging with the blog tonight, and I’ll see you all again here on Monday night from 7:00pm AEST!

Until then, enjoy your weekend, and gooooo Tillies!!!

So what did you make of that?

Redemption rocks. Phew! Okay, how do you pick an optimal 18 squad out of that? I guess that’s why Tony’s paid the big bucks. More questions than answers, maybe the answers’ll arrive on Monday. Thanks Sam!

– Big Ben

High energy and effort leads to chances and finally a goal. Why did they play so conservatively for the first 88 minutes? Raso showed the way

– Tobi

Matildas lack quality. Any squad with EVE and Polkinghorne hasn’t hope against the new top nations.

– The bill

Great to see Michelle Heyman score at the death to salvage the draw, she’ll definitely be on the plane to Paris in July.

– Adam

What’s the answer? Give them time (and hope Ford’s injury heals)

– Betty

Whenever the Matildas have two-game windows, they do tend to be quite rusty and slow in the first of the two matches. So in that context, tonight’s game isn’t a huge surprise, nor is it a shock given the five changes Tony Gustavsson made to the starting line-up.

And yet… with Paris less than two months away… the Matildas don’t really have time to be this sloppy, do they? They certainly won’t be forgiven for it against the USA, Germany, and Zambia.

But who do you reckon impressed tonight? Did any player convince you that they should go to the Olympics? Or do we need another game to figure it out?

Heyman redemption!

Let the scoreboard show that it was Michelle Heyman who equalised. I won’t hear a bad word said about her! (even if she didn’t have a great game 🙂 ⚽️💚💛

– Leo

michelle heyman doesn’t miss in front of goal! she might not be sam kerr but she should be in paris as a CF.

– alex

– Samantha Lewis

I was literally typing a post about Michelle Heyman’s game tonight, and then she just goes and scores.

Maybe that’s why she goes to Paris: because she can be there right until the very end.

Full time: Australia 1 – 1 China

The commentators curse Sam…Michelle Heyman unseen all night…bobs up in the 95min…extraordinary!

– stumcin

Yeeeeeeesssssssss!!!! 🥳🥳🥳

– Tania

YYYYYYYYY3EEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAASHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!

– Natty

FInally!!!!!!

– M

I feel that goal should be given to the china goalkeeper. She put a lot of effort to make australia score

– First

Michelle is back online!!!

– Micko

Geez. Oztraylia. You got damn lucky with that goal at the end! Coulda/shoulda done better. And sooner.

– Ingrid

Whew

– sandye

Hurray

– jag

Just like the last time they played, a stoppage-time equaliser rescues the Matildas after a pretty sluggish display.

Absolute scenes from the sold-out stadium – and from all of you – right at the death!

94′ GOAL AUSTRALIA

MICHELLE HEYMAN EQUALISES AFTER A TRULY BIZARRE SERIES OF EVENTS!

A free kick just outside China’s box was awarded after their goalkeeper came sprinting off her line and seemed to hand-ball it after a miscontrol?

Mary Fowler stood over the ball, sending her rocket of a right foot through the set piece towards the front post, where the keeper isn’t able to catch it and the deflection falls right to the feet of Heyman, who pokes it home.

1-1!

93′ Where are our goals coming from?

The hole left by Sam Kerr’s absence is starting to look bigger and bigger with every minute that goes by tonight!

– stumcin

Hopefully Caitlin Foord doesn’t have a serious injury, this would be disastrous for the Matildas 55 days out from the first game in the Olympics.

– Adam

As I wrote at the start of tonight’s blog, the Matildas really haven’t figured out the answer of how to score goals without Sam Kerr.

As Adam says, this injury to Caitlin Foord is a worry. She was massive for the Tillies during the World Cup when Kerr was unavailable. Mary Fowler’s wobbly form in this game is a concern, as has Michelle Heyman’s kinda-nothing performance.

So what’s the answer?

91′ Chance China!

Another counter-attack from China sees Wu Chengshu through one-on-one with Clare Hunt, who’s backtracking into her own box, trying to hold up the energised substitute.

Chengsu twists and turns and finds a half-space, swinging her foot through the ball, but she doesn’t quite connect and it fizzes into Mackenzie Arnold’s hands.

Five minutes of added time

87′ Hunt gets crunched

A wildly spinning aerial ball from Hayley Raso that deflected off a Chinese player falls dangerously towards the top of the box, where Clare Hunt and substitute Wu Chengshu both race towards it, trying to nick it out of the air and do something.

Hunt is the tallest of the two and is able to head it away in time, but Chengshu barrels straight through the centre-back, sending her crashing into the grass.

There’s a couple words exchanged between the Chinese striker and Steph Catley afterwards as Hunt catches her breath. Not so friendly after all, this.

86′ Big Woman Up Top

I don’t know how you folks feel, but when I see Alanna Kennedy thrown up front into the centre-forward position, that’s when I know that Tony Gustavsson is running out of ideas.

Like, I get it. She’s tall and good in the air. But so is Michelle Heyman. Is this really Plan B if the Matildas are behind during the Olympics?

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85′ China substitutions

Mengwen Li is off for Mengyu Shen.

Shuang Wang Shuang is replaced by Cong Yuan.

And Yanwen Wang is off for Jiali Tang.

82′ Michelle Heyman’s gone missing

Another watcher/reader (Olive) mentioned that Mary Fowler was “struggling to do her Mary magic here”. I wonder if both her and Michelle Heyman are suffering from not being fed enough good balls? Hopefully, the subs will change that and improve distribution.

– Ingrid

Is hayman in her space jam version?

– First

She’s really just been a warm body out there for this second half, hasn’t she? It’s like the game has been happening around her and she’s just kinda been watching from a really awesome front-row seat.

I do think that the build-up play has affected her tonight, though. She barely connected with the two midfielders in the first half, and now is having to deliberately involve herself in plays to try and get anywhere near the ball.

She leaps onto a moment now, spinning on the ball after a China error, and takes a couple charging steps into the box, but just as she tries to shoot, a Chinese defender gets a toe on the ball and it spins into the keeper’s arms.

80′ Chance Australia!

They’re throwing more bodies forward now, trying to overload China’s backline and create a bit of chaos.

Another corner is taken short, with Fowler delivering the ball to the very back of the box, where Hayley Raso nods it back towards the penalty spot.

Kennedy is there, and tries an acrobatic sideways kick, but she doesn’t quite catch it and it spins over the bar.

79′ Not many beliEVErs on the blog tonight

Surprised TG left EVE out there….thoughts?

– Tania

not sure why tony is so keen on emily van egmond? she cannot play as a striker and as a midfielder not anymore effective than clare wheeler or yallop…

– alex

Honestly? I agree. Emily Van Egmond doesn’t seem to have the speed or style that you associate with this high-intensity Matildas team, so it’s odd that she’s played such a pivotal role in the side for so long.

78′ Aaaaaand she misses

Kennedy goes for it, trying to whip the ball up and over China’s wall and into the top corner, but it flies over the crossbar instead.

78′ Matildas win a dangerous free kick

Emily Van Egmond was clipped from behind by a clumsy Chinese player just outside the top of the box.

Steph Catley and Alanna Kennedy are standing over it. China have five players in the wall…

Crowd: 52,912

Hectic. Well done, Adelaide!

76′ Australia substitution

Uh oh.

Caitlin Foord, who came on only 15 minutes ago, goes down in the grass, gesturing towards her hamstring.

A minute later, she walks off the field, replaced by Brisbane Roar winger Sharn Frier.

75′ China substitution

Goal-scorer Zhang Linyan is off for Liu Yanqui.

74′ Chance Australia!

A more characteristic passage from Australia with Ellie Carpenter slotting through the speedy Hayley Raso down the right wing.

She cuts the ball back from the by-line, aiming for the penalty spot, where Mary Fowler is steaming in to meet it.

But Carpenter is there instead, and gets in the way of Fowler’s swing, so she doesn’t quite meet it properly and the ball deflects off a China defender and bounces away up-field instead.

Bugger.

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Matildas triumph 3-0 over Uzbekistan in first Olympic qualifier

Michelle Heyman has scored her first international goal in almost eight years to inspire a 3-0 victory over Uzbekistan and drag the Matildas one step closer to a place at the Paris Olympics.

In their first match since superstar skipper Sam Kerr tore her ACL in January, Australia understandably missed one of the world’s best strikers at the Milliy Stadium in Tashkent.

The Matildas were scratchy and lacked cohesion, while Emily van Egmond had a horror night up forward, missing one sitter and failing to convert two other chances she would normally bury.

Coach Tony Gustavsson turned to Canberra United star Heyman, 35, to replace van Egmond off the bench in the 65th minute, and the veteran delivered just eight minutes later.

In her first appearance since 2018, Heyman headed home her 21st goal for Australia and her first since netting twice against Zimbabwe at the Rio Olympics on August 9, 2016.

Mary Fowler, who was wonderful in the second half, scored a sublime individual goal in the 84th minute, and Caitlin Foord headed home in the 86th to seal victory.

It means Australia will head into Wednesday’s second leg at Melbourne’s Marvel Stadium with a crucial 3-0 lead in the tie.

Debutant Kaitlyn Torpey started on the wing, wearing Kerr’s number 20 but was hooked for Foord, who was having her game time managed, at half-time.

Australia had 75 per cent of possession in the first half but just four shots and one on target, but they finished with 26 (eight on target).

They should have taken the lead in the 21st minute when Torpey tried to square for van Egmond instead of shooting.

Hayley Raso dragged a first-time strike wide on the half-hour mark, and shortly afterwards van Egmond hooked over the bar.

Just before half-time, van Egmond failed to get a header on target from point-blank range.

In the 54th minute, Fowler curled a wonderful ball behind the Uzbekistan defence and van Egmond inexplicably failed to tap home.

Heyman headed over the bar a minute after coming on, then delivered the lead when she nodded a corner onto the bar before following up with a second header.

Fowler then intercepted a clearance with a wonderful first touch, weaved between defenders and ripped a fantastic long-range strike inside the near post.

Foord found space and turned home a Steph Catley cross to wrap up proceedings.

Check out how all the action unfolded in our live blog below.

Key events

Final thoughts

 First of all: whew.

That first half was pretty rusty, as expected, but Tony Gustavsson’s substitutes gave the Matildas exactly the energy and dynamism they needed to unlock what had been, until then, a very solid Uzbekistan defence.

Michelle Heyman will be absolutely buzzing, scoring her first goal since 2016 upon her return to the national team after a four-year retirement, while Mary Fowler and the excellent Caitlin Foord added goals two and three.

You’d have to think the Canberra striker is a lock to start in the second leg in Melbourne on Wednesday: she provided Australia with a target player, height, power, and important movement to bring other players into the game around her.

Now that they’ve made it through this chilly first game, the Matildas return home with wind in their sails and a 3-0 advantage, which is exactly what they would have wanted.

Thanks so much for joining me on the blog for tonight’s game, and I can’t wait to be back here on Wednesday as we see whether the gals can qualify for their third Olympic Games in a row!

See you then!

Full-time: Uzbekistan 0 – 3 Australia

Crowd numbers

Robbie Thompson has said the crowd in Tashkent is just under 2,500 people.

As of today, almost the entirety of Marvel Stadium is sold out for Wednesday’s second leg.

The Uzbekistan players won’t be ready for noise like that, I reckon.

Permutations

What happens if Tillies win tonight and Uzbekistan wins Wednesday night? Who goes to Paris?

– EveWintergreen

It depends on how much Uzbekistan hypothetically win by.

If Australia finish this game 3-0 winners, Uzbekistan would need to win at least 4-0 in Melbourne on Wednesday to qualify for Paris.

90′ Three minutes of time added on

Same, honestly

UZB’s goalie kicking the ball back in the net after the third goal is so real. I would be so frustrated

– Em for Matildas

89′ Australia substitution

Ellie Carpenter comes off for Charlie Grant.

Catchy!

The song we sing here, Hey hey Heyman ooohh ahhh, I wanna know if you’ll kick that goal!

– Canberra is cool

Yiew!!!

And again ⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️
Mary Fowler

– Vic in Vic

HaHAAAAAA! Heyman + Fowler

– Big Ben

Mary Mary Mary you beaute

– Em for Matildas

Just my luck. I step out to put stuff in the fridge, and the Tillies score a goal. Belated Hooray, anyway!

– SeonaBath

Floodgates open. Thanks Caitlin! ⚽️💚💛

– Leo

85′ GOAL AUSTRALIA

Caitlin Foord makes it three!

The Matildas have been trying this move all night: a winger chipping a pass in behind Uzbekistan’s defenders to find the head of an attacking player, and this time Caitlin Foord is there, all alone, to nod home a perfectly-weighted cross from Steph Catley.

3-0!

Hail Mary!

Mary Fowler you superstar! 😍⚽️💚💛

– Leo

83′ GOAL AUSTRALIA!

MAGIC MARY FOWLER MAKES IT TWO!

The midfielder has been chipping away at Uzbekistan’s defenders all night, and this time she just goes route one: picking up the ball in deep midfield and dancing past three players all by herself.

She skates towards the top of the box and steadies herself, unleashing her lethal right foot through the rubber to send a shot low and hard across the goalkeeper and into the bottom corner of the net.

2-0!!!

82′ Australia substitutions

Aivi Luik replaces Alanna Kennedy, while Tameka Yallop comes on for Hayley Raso.

80′ Chance Australia!

Goodness me, that was almost a bizarre second goal for the Matildas.

A long, dipping cross from Mary Fowler far out on the left wing is falling perfectly into the Zone Of Hesitation between Caitlin Foord and Uzbekistan’s goalkeeper, with both of them thinking the other was going to touch it, only for neither of them to get it at all.

Instead, the ball bounces past all of them and a gasp goes around the ground as it almost nestles into the far corner of the net, but bounces just wide instead.

77′ Matildas want a second

They’ve been attacking Uzbekistan in waves for the past five minutes, coming in at all angles and trying to keep the tempo and pressure up on their opponents.

Catley’s corners have been on-point all night, and are looking like Australia’s best attacking weapon at the moment. Alanna Kennedy could have nodded home the Matildas’ second goal a few minutes ago, but she mistimed her jump. Clare Hunt did the same just now.

You’d think they’ll be working a bit more on finishing their headers in the interim before the second leg of this series on Wednesday night, but wouldn’t it be great to snag one or two more goals here so that the pressure is off in Melbourne?

I sure would love that.

Woohoo!!!!

YYYYYYYYYYYYEEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!!!

– Natty

Finally ⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️⚽️ Michelle Hayman

– Vic in Vic

Oh Michelle! I’m in tears! ⚽️💚💛😍

– Leo

CRYING SCREAMING THROWING UP I AM SO HAPPY

– Em for Matildas

Finally! Tillies score off a corner in how long? Thank you Ms Heyman and welcome back.

– Big Ben

72′ GOAL AUSTRALIA!

MICHELLE HEYMAN SCORES IN HER COMEBACK GAME!

A brilliant corner from Steph Catley angles in towards the front post, bobbling off Heyman’s shoulder and clanging off the crossbar.

It could have deflected anywhere, but it fell straight back to her, and she nodded it over the scrambling Uzbekistan defender on the line and into the net.

1-0!

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Michelle Heyman’s Matildas recall highlights Australian football’s striker problem

When news broke in January that Matildas captain Sam Kerr had torn her ACL, keeping her on the sidelines of the sport for the better part of the next year, a question that had been simmering in the background of Australian women’s football for the past few years suddenly reached boiling-point.

How can the country’s greatest ever goal-scorer be replaced? Which player is ready to step into the 30-year-old’s golden shoes? Who is next in the production-line of Australian strikers?

This question was being asked even when Kerr was fit and healthy. Since the 2019 Women’s World Cup, doubts were festering that the Matildas had become too reliant on the Chelsea forward, and that the team struggled to find the back of the net without her.

Sam Kerr’s ACL injury has put a spotlight on Australian football’s ongoing struggle to develop strikers.(AAP Image: Richard Wainwright)

The 2022 Women’s Asian Cup quarterfinal against South Korea was a case in point: Kerr started that game and had a handful of open-net chances which, for some reason, she failed to finish. The Matildas lost 1-0 and exited the competition at the earliest point in their history.

The question was the subtext to Kerr’s calf injury on the eve of the 2023 Women’s World Cup, too: how on earth would the team perform without their star player? Who else do we have waiting in the wings to take over?

While head coach Tony Gustavsson was able to rapidly shuffle the team’s structure and rely more on other players like Caitlin Foord, Hayley Raso, Mary Fowler and Emily Van Egmond to step up in her place, Kerr’s memorable goal against England in the semifinal — the only bright spark in an otherwise fatigued performance from the rest of the team — left many wondering how much further the Matildas could have gone had she been available the whole time.

But there is no day-by-day countdown clock on Kerr’s return now, as there was last July. Today, we have certainty that she won’t make a miraculously speedy recovery to be fully fit for the Olympic qualifying play-off against Uzbekistan in about two weeks, nor for the Olympic Games in Paris in just five months’ time. The question has now come into full and urgent focus.

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Inexperienced Matildas fall to Canada 5-0 in opening friendly

The Matildas have recorded their heaviest defeat in 17 months, with an inexperienced line-up thrashed 5-0 by Canada.

Nichelle Prince scored a first-half brace to send Canada on its way, with Cloé Lacasse, Simi Awujo and Adriana Leon completing the rout inside 62 minutes on Saturday AEDT.

It was the Matildas’ biggest defeat and poorest performance since a similarly inexperienced line-up posted a 7-0 humiliation to Spain in 2022.

Coach Tony Gustavsson had promised an experimental squad and no players from the 4-0 Women’s World Cup win over Canada were named in the starting line-up.

Sam Kerr and Mackenzie Arnold were out injured, while Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley, Mary Fowler and Kyra Cooney-Cross were among those benched amid heavy workloads at club level.

The starting line-up in Langford had a combined 429 caps, with 281 of those between Clare Polkinghorne and Tameka Yallop.

Charlize Rule and Sarah Hunter debuted at right-back and holding midfield and were among six players with fewer than 20 caps.

On a sodden artificial pitch at Starlight Stadium, the disjointed Matildas struggled to get to grips with the surface, or a brilliant Canada.

The Matildas were overrun in midfield and had no first-half shots to Canada’s 13 and it took just 10 minutes for the hosts to take the lead.

A heavy back-pass from Rule sold Polkinghorne into trouble and, as the centre-back got the ball caught under her feet, Prince pounced.

The striker pinched the ball away and coolly finished into the bottom corner.

Teagan Micah made three brilliant saves, denying Leon in the 24th and 31st minutes and Vanessa Gilles in the 27th.

But in the 43rd minute, Ashley Lawrence burst down the right and cut back to Prince, whose first-time shot beat a disappointed Micah at the near post.

Four minutes into the second half, the defending Olympic champions all but sealed victory when Hunter dawdled on the ball and Lacasse pinched it off her, before bursting to score.

In the 55th minute, Rule’s clearing header fell to Awujo, who had time to take a touch and fire home from distance.

Seven minutes later, Leon completed the rout when she drifted unmarked between a scattered defence to score.

Gustavsson turned to more experience in Fowler, Cooney-Cross, Katrina Gorry and Alanna Kennedy for the final half-hour.

The Matildas had their first shot through Fowler in the 74th minute, with Kailen Sheridan making a comfortable save.

In her second-last match, retiring Canada great Christine Sinclair entered the fray in the 62nd minute.

The second friendly is in Vancouver on Wednesday afternoon AEDT.

AAP

Look back at how the action unfolded in our blog.

Key events

Final thoughts

Football is a cycle, and just as we saw the Matildas go through some growing pains in their early days under Tony Gustavsson, this was another moment in which we were reminded of what the next generation of players coming through the ranks looks like.

Commentator Andy Harper isn’t as forgiving of this result, though, the biggest loss Australia have copped since that 7-0 drubbing at the hands of Spain last year.

But just like that game, this was an experimental team: Five players with 15 or fewer caps, and with a number of key senior players benched until the hour mark.

“When you make bulk changes, bulk experiments, with so many young debutants, it makes it really difficult for them to shine,” Amy Chapman says on the broadcast.

She reckons a better balance needed to be struck by drip-feeding young players into the senior starting side, citing Kyra Cooney-Cross’s partnership with Katrina Gorry on the field as a big reason why she’s come such a long way so quickly. Maybe we’ll see that in the next game on Tuesday.

That’s not to say Canada weren’t excellent. They were a team who have clearly played a lot of football together, and who will be thrilled to put five past the team that defeated them at the World Cup six months ago.

The field itself was tough; a slick artificial surface in the frosty rain made it really difficult for both sides, and you could see the Matildas’ confidence wane as the game wore on.

They registered just two shots all game — both coming through Mary Fowler when she came on — which, you’d hope, will be a focus for the side in their final match of the year next week.

All in all, given the gulf in experience and quality between the two sides, it’s perhaps no surprise that it ended the way it did.

How they bounce back and what changes they make before the rematch on Tuesday will determine whether the Matildas can finish their remarkable 2023 with a bang or a whimper.

Until then, thanks for joining me. Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

Full-time: Canada 5 – 0 Australia

What’s next?

Is there much to be gained by serving up another experimental line up on Wednesday Sam? Surely we field our strongest line up to see if we can spoil the Christine Sinclair farewell party. A big crowd deserves a competitive game.

– stumcin

It’s a good question. I think it depends on a few things: 1) how the younger players pull up after this game, 2) how the more experienced players are feeling, and 3) what Tony Gustavsson wants to work on.

I can see a situation where there’s a combination of the “two” teams we saw tonight. Where, say, a Sarah Hunter plays alongside a Katrina Gorry, or a Remy Siemsen starts up front alongside a Hayley Raso or Mary Fowler.

Seeing how some of the individuals slot into the regular starting team would be the way I approach it, personally. But I’m not Tony. So we’ll have to wait and see.

90′ 2 minutes of added time

89′ The game is winding down now

Both teams have mostly cancelled each other out in the last 15 minutes. In terms of the scoreline, it’s well out of sight, and you feel that the substitutions Gustavsson made were partly made to save the confidence of the younger players. Those on the field now didn’t really need minutes, and they’re not playing with the kind of hunger that they may have had the scores been a little closer. That’s OK though. So long as nobody gets injured, that’s what matters.

84′ Canada try the counterattack

Christine Sinclair picks up the ball in midfield and turns before charging forward after Australia’s midfielders over-committed.

Young winger Bianca St. George is tearing down the right wing, and is spotted by Sinc, who delivers a delightful outside-of-the-foot through-ball into her teammate’s path.

She tears into the box, but Alanna Kennedy is in lockstep with her. The towering centre-back throws herself across the grass as she anticipates the cross, but St. Georges loses control of the ball and it trickles out for a goal kick.

80′ Canada 5 – 0 Australia

The Matildas have looked much more composed since those substitutions were made just after the hour, but Canada aren’t letting them back into the game.

While they’re not charging forward with quite the same energy or savagery as they did early on, they still don’t look super fazed by Australia’s fresh bodies, passing the ball calmly around the back and out onto the wings before recycling it back again.

The Matildas aren’t giving up – Mary Fowler had another penalty-box entry about a minute ago – but this seems to mostly be about damage control now.

77′ Tekkers Buchanan

The Chelsea centre-back looks to be at sea, on the ball with her back to goal as Amy Sayer pressures her from behind, but the veteran does a couple of lovely step-overs and wiggles away from the young Matilda, taking on three other Aussies and jinking a lovely pass through them all.

They’re just toying with us now …

76′ Substitution Australia

Hayley Raso comes on in place of Tameka Yallop.

73′ And just as I say that!

Mary Fowler receives an incisive pass from the right wing, turning into the D at the top of the box and rocketing her foot through the rubber.

It’s almost too straight a shot, though, and it slams right into the chest of goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan for her first save of the night.

That’s something, I guess…

71′ Canada 5 – 0 Australia

With 20 minutes left, the Matildas have a mountain to climb.

They’re not going to get back into this game, you’d think, but a start would be actually having some shots at goal.

I don’t remember the last time Australia went for so long in a game without registering a single shot.

Their possession has improved since the substitutions were made, but with Mary Fowler the only recognised senior attacker on the field – with Emily Van Egmond and Tameka Yallop supporting her – you wonder whether they’ll get close enough to register even one.

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The Matildas now know who they’ll have to beat to book their ticket to the Paris Olympics

The Matildas have swept the second round of their Olympic qualifying campaign with a 3-0 victory over Chinese Taipei, with a date with 50th-ranked Uzbekistan set for February to book their ticket to Paris 2024.

After beating Iran 2-0, followed by a spectacular 8-0 demolition of the Philippines in front of a record crowd on Sunday, their third straight win meant Australia finished on top of Group A with a perfect nine points from nine and a goal difference of plus-13.

To qualify for the Olympics, the Matildas must now beat Uzbekistan in a two-legged home-and-away play-off in February to secure one of the two spots given to Asian confederation teams.

Australia, North Korea and Japan secured their places among the final four in Asia by topping the three groups, with Uzbekistan joining them as the best-placed runner-up thanks to a 3-0 win over India.

Australia and world number eight Japan were both perfect in round two, but the Matildas’ goal difference ensured they were the top qualifier.

In front of 19,084 fans on Wednesday night, it took until the 62nd minute for Australia to open the scoring — but it was worth the wait.

Mary Fowler trapped a floated pass and took one more touch before unleashing a powerful strike from 20 metres out to send the crowd wild.

Six minutes later, hometown hero Sam Kerr scored the Matildas’ 900th goal from point-blank range to keep the ball rolling, before substitute Tameka Yallop sealed the deal in the 76th minute.

With goal difference pivotal, the Matildas unleashed a near full-strength starting XI against Chinese Taipei featuring Kerr, Caitlin Foord, Fowler, Mackenzie Arnold and Steph Catley.

But despite registering 17 shots to one in the first half and enjoying 79 per cent possession, the Matildas couldn’t find a way past their opposition’s staunch defence.

Fowler came the closest in the 14th minute, but her powerful shot from close range rattled the woodwork and deflected away.

Stand-out Chinese Taipei goalkeeper Cheng Ssu-Yu pulled off a series of strong saves to further frustrate the Matildas.

But Australia had only themselves to blame on other occasions, firing a series of shots either wide or over the target.

Kerr had a golden chance to open the scoring on the stroke of half-time, but her header at the far post went over the crossbar.

The Chelsea striker also fluffed a chance early in the second half when a poor first touch cost her what would have been a one-on-one opportunity against the goalkeeper.

But there was no stopping Fowler’s thunderous strike in the 62nd minute.

And when a goal-mouth scramble ensued shortly after, Kerr was on hand to score the tap-in.

Kerr was subbed off straight after the goal, but Yallop ensured the party continued with an easy finish following good lead-in work from Foord and Amy Sayer.

In the other match in Perth on Wednesday, the Philippines beat Iran 1-0 courtesy of a 19th minute goal from Tahnai Annis.

Check out how the match unfolded below with our blog.

Key events

Final thoughts

And with that, the Matildas fly through to the third round of Olympic qualifying after a blistering second-half performance against Chinese Taipei.

A glorious goal to Mary Fowler broke the deadlock, with Sam Kerr and Tameka Yallop adding to the damage as Australia finally crashed through an admirable opposition defence, highlighted by a stand-out performance from goalkeeper Cheng Ssu-Yu.

This is the final game the Matildas will play at home this year, and what a year it has been. These three sell-out games in Perth cap off a truly magical rise for the team in 2023, peaking with their Women’s World Cup run. Their impact will ripple through generations to come.

So what’s next for the team? A pair of friendlies against Canada in December, before returning to action in February in the third round of Olympic qualifying where they’ll face one of Asia’s stronger sides in a home-and-away series. Win that final leg and they’re through to Paris in July, where they have unfinished business after just missing out on a medal in Tokyo.

And as always, I’ll be there to take you through it all.

Thank you so much for joining me tonight for our live coverage of Australia v Chinese Taipei. You’re all legends for staying up so late, and I’m thrilled we got a fantastic second-half performance from the team to make tomorrow’s bleary-eyed workday worth it.

Take care and I’ll see you all soon!

Vic is two predictions from two!

Tim Tam slam for me 💚💛😜

– Vic in Vic

Quick, go and buy a lottery ticket, Vic!

Full-time: Australia 3 – 0 Chinese Taipei

92′ Australia keep on coming

We want four! They want four!

Caitlin Foord, Kyra Cooney-Cross, and Mary Fowler are all still hungry, swimming around the box as they search for a sealer.

The ball falls to Fowler, who’s on an absolute tear, opening her body up and thumping the rubber.

I fully expected it to fly into the net – as did most of the crowd based on the “ooh”s – but it goes just wide of the post.

5 minutes of added time

You and all of us, Tony!

I will sleep better now. phew! Thanks for the coverage Sam. Cheers

– Tony

Glad the Tillies could put on a show for ya in the second half.

I will sleep soundly knowing that we’ve got at least another ten years of Mary Fowler. And she’s already this good. Golly.

And the Player of the Match goes to…

Crowd number: 19,084

Woohoo!

That’s three sell-outs for the past three games, taking the sell-out streak for the Matildas to 11 consecutive games.

Sensational work, Perth. We should bring games there more often.

84′ Yallop almost has another!

A gorgeous floating cross from Amy Sayer on the right wing is looking for the head of Tameka Yallop, who made an immediate impact off the bench a few minutes ago.

The ball is floating in that in-between space where a single inch can determine who gets it, with Yallop and Chinese Taipei goalkeeper Cheng Ssu-Yu both throwing themselves up into the sky to connect with it.

The goalkeeper’s gloves reach the ball first, but Yallop’s momentum carries her into the keeper and clatters her into the grass.

She’s up a few moments later, taking a few sips of water. She’s been absolutely epic this game, and I recall the comments from her head coach Chan Hiu Ming yesterday, asking Australian A-League Women clubs to keep an eye on some of his players to potentially give them some opportunities.

Well, there’s someone who’s put her gloved hand up tonight.

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Matildas defeat Philippines 8-0 in second Olympic qualifier

Three days after scrapping past a stubborn Iran side, the Matildas have rediscovered their groove by defeating the Philippines 8-0 in front of a record crowd at Perth Stadium as their Olympic qualification campaign charges onwards.

Hat-tricks to Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord were complemented by goals to Mary Fowler and Clare Wheeler in both halves as head coach Tony Gustavsson fielded his strongest line-up for the first time since the World Cup.

In front of a sellout crowd of 59,155 at Optus Stadium on Sunday, Kerr and Foord scored first-half braces as Australia took a 5-0 lead into the break.

Kerr secured her hat-trick just 24 seconds into the second half when she headed home a pin-point cross from Mary Fowler for her 68th goal from 127 internationals.

Foord notched her own hat-trick in the 56th minute when she danced around an opponent on the by-line and nailed her shot from a tight angle.

The result thrust the Matildas to the top of Group A on six points, meaning all they need is a draw against Chinese Taipei next Wednesday to guarantee progression to the final stage of qualification in February.

Even with a loss the Matildas would either top the group or at least qualify as the best runner-up from the three Asian confederation groups.

The only concern from Sunday’s match was an injury to substitute Cortnee Vine, who came off in the 75th minute with what appeared to be a hamstring issue 10 minutes after coming on.

“It’s amazing to play here in front of a packed crowd,” Kerr told channel 10 after the match.

“I think everyone came out here and gave 100 per cent. We worked our butts off today, that’s for sure.”

The Matildas rested most of their biggest stars in Thursday’s 2-0 win against Iran, but they wheeled out a full-strength outfit against the Philippines in a match that would effectively decide the group winner.

Kerr, Foord, Mackenzie Arnold, Steph Catley and Fowler were among the 10 changes, and it didn’t take long for the floodgates to open.

Fowler opened the scoring in the 15th minute courtesy of a clever deflection from Foord.

And the crowd went into a frenzy when Kerr scored from close range in the 19th minute following a superb run by Foord, who beat two opponents before dishing off the assist.

Kerr turned provider for the next goal when she expertly controlled Fowler’s lobbed pass before dishing off to Foord to score in the 30th minute.

Foord added another three minutes later when she held off an opponent before sliding a shot past the goalkeeper as she was falling to ground.

Kerr made it 5-0 on the stroke of half-time when she found herself one-on-one against the goalkeeper and blasted the ball into the back of the net.

The Matildas skipper headed home Fowler’s cross just 24 seconds into the second half, and it was party time in the 56th minute when Foord evaded an opponent to secure her hat-trick.

Kerr, Hayley Raso, Kyra Cooney-Cross and Katrina Gorry were subbed off in the 65th minute with the job done, but substitute Clare Wheeler ensured the party continued with a 72nd-minute rocket from the edge of the box to secure her maiden international goal.

The world number 44 Philippines, coached by Western United boss Mark Torcaso, came from behind to beat Chinese Taipei 4-1 in their group stage opener, but they were simply no match for the Matildas.

Read how the match unfolded in our liveblog below.

Key events

Thanks and ciao

It’s been a joy bringing you tonight’s incredible performance from the Tillies. The teal away kit really does give them special powers.

Their final match against Chinese Taipei kicks off at 10:00pm AEDT on Wednesday night, and you bet your butts I’ll be back on the blog for what is hopefully another convincing outing from the gals.

Until then, have a great start to your week, and I’ll see you then!

Final thoughts

We couldn’t have asked for much more than that, could we?

Eight goals, including five in the first half. A clean sheet. Two hat-tricks. A record crowd.

The Matildas’ path towards qualification for the Paris Olympics next year seems like just a matter of time.

A completely dominant performance, especially from the returned World Cup heroes.

While the second-half fizzled out somewhat after a raft of changes, which is something the team will need to sort out moving into the third round of qualifying against much tougher opposition, for now there’s not much more that could’ve been better.

23 shots, 12 on target, 76% possession, 689 passes, 5 corners.

And a very, very happy Perth crowd.

Full-time: Australia 8 – 0 Philippines

93′ Sayer isn’t giving up!

The young midfielder comes charging into the six-yard box head-first, trying to connect with a fizzing cross from Carpenter from the byline.

But the ball is just too quick and Sayer – as well as everybody else – misses it completely.

92′ Emily Van Egmond could’ve capped it off

The Philippines are basically blue training cones now; they’re barely able to track back or keep up with the Matildas.

Emily Van Egmond and Ellie Carpenter exchange a couple passes, with the substitute kinda just walking towards the top of the box without any pressure. She has so much time to open her body up and take a shot, but for some reason tries to pass through to Foord, who’s standing offside anyway.

The ball trickles away. Weird moment.

Four minutes of stoppage time

And the Matildas are still hunting for a ninth goal, bless ’em.

89′ Chance!

A deep free kick by Catley finds the head of Amy Sayer this time, who flings her dark ponytail at it totally unchallenged near the six-yard area, but it’s an awkward connection and bounces well over the crossbar.

So still a ways to go

Hi Sam, just checked on Wikipedia and it’s about the 8th biggest crowd at Optus. After some AFL games, a Bledisloe Cup and a State of Origin.

PS. How’s your French?

– Mark

My French is very bad. The Duolingo owl is not happy with me.

But we’re one step closer to the Paris Olympics, so I think I might have to brush up…

Same

Wow… this is embarrassing…I got it wronger than I ever have.

– Natty

But honestly, I’m okay with being wrong if these are the kinds of performances and score-lines we get!

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Matildas defeat Iran 2-0 in first Olympic qualifier

Sam Kerr has come off the bench to score the clincher in front of her hometown fans in the Matildas’ 2-0 Olympic qualifier win over Iran in Perth.

In front of 18,798 fans on Thursday night, Ellie Carpenter opened the scoring in the 19th minute before Kerr sealed the deal with her 78th-minute tap-in.

Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson warned on the eve of the match that he wouldn’t be throwing his jet-lagged stars into the deep end, and a glimpse at the bench proved those words to be true.

Kerr, Mackenzie Arnold, Katrina Gorry, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Caitlin Foord, Stephanie Catley, Hayley Raso, Alanna Kennedy and Mary Fowler all started on the sideline.

With the scoreline still just 1-0 at the 65-minute mark in a match Australia were predicted to win easily, Gustavsson brought on Kerr, Catley and Fowler in a triple substitution.

The move worked a charm, with the trio joining forces to create Australia’s second goal.

Catley combined with Fowler for a one-two before firing a low pass across goal, allowing Kerr to complete an easy tap-in.

Foord, Raso, Arnold and Gorry were among the unused substitutes.

The Matildas enjoyed 82 per cent possession in the first half, and a neat run down the right from Cortnee Vine helped set up the opener.

Vine’s cross made its way to Charlotte Grant, who passed it off to Carpenter to rifle the ball home for just her fourth goal in 70 appearances for Australia.

Ellie Carpenter opened the scoring for Australia.(AAP Image: Richard Wainwright)

Carpenter almost had a second in the 31st minute when she was played in and only had the goalkeeper to beat, but her shot from an angle was well wide of the target.

Iran’s players did their best to waste time whenever the chance arose.

Theatrical rolls on the ground were a common theme in the first half, much to the frustration of Matildas.

Adding to Australia’s frustrations was their own inability to finish off their chances.

Kerr received a rousing reception when she was brought on in the 65th minute.

The star Chelsea striker fired a 72nd-minute strike over the crossbar, but she made no mistake from her tap-in six minutes later.

Kerr had a golden chance to score again in the 93rd minute, but she couldn’t keep her strike low enough.

Sam Kerr with crowd

Sam Kerr performed in front of her home crowd.(AAP Image: Richard Wainwright)

In the earlier match, the Philippines came from behind to post a 4-1 win over Taiwan, firing them to the top of the group.

Yi-yun Hsu opened the scoring for Taiwan in the 47th minute as the underdogs dreamed of a an upset.

But a double to Sarina Bolden and goals to Katrina Guillou and Chandler McDaniel meant it ended up being an easy win for the Philippines.

The Matildas face off against the Philippines on Sunday and Taiwan next Wednesday.

Australia must finish on top of the group to guarantee passage through to the final round of Olympic qualifying in February.

Look back on our live coverage below. 

Key events

Final thoughts

The Matildas get their Olympic qualifying campaign off to a good start, with Ellie Carpenter and Sam Kerr getting on the score-sheet, but it was a much tougher task than perhaps what they were expecting.

Iran sat deep and defended like their lives depended on it, throwing themselves in front of every cross and pass aimed towards their penalty area, with goalkeeper Zahra Khajavi having a stand-out performance.

It was an experimental side from Tony Gustavsson, with several big names starting on the bench, and there was a noticeable lack of chemistry and cohesion among some of the newer players.

The young Amy Sayer was the most impressive newbie, providing some dynamism and spark through midfield, while Emily Van Egmond and Clare Wheeler offered some much-needed calmness and control.

Yet the Matildas struggled to find avenues to goal, with Cortnee Vine and Tameka Yallop having a couple bright moments, though it was Carpenter who eventually found the opener after a scramble in the box.

The jammy first half from Australia just made the quality of their World Cup stars even more obvious, with Mary Fowler and Steph Catley in particular adding a different level of class and choreography to the contest.

It’s always a challenge breaking down deep defensive blocks, which is something the Matildas have traditionally struggled with, especially in Asian competitions.

With two games left against opponents who could pull out similar tactics, Australia will have to be smarter and more patient in their attacking phases, and far more clinical in front of goal.

But in the end, a win is a win, and this was a game as much about shaking off the rust as it was getting the three points.

Australia will next face the Philippines on Sunday afternoon at Optus Stadium, kicking off at 6:10pm AEDT.

And I’ll be back on the blog to take you through it all!

Thanks so much for joining us tonight, and go Tillies!

Full-time: Australia 2 – 0 Iran

99′ Australia 2 – 0 Iran

Steph Catley is standing over her second corner in quick succession.

It skims off the head of Kerr at the near post, but somehow clatters into Emily Van Egmond who’s just… standing in the way?

If that counts as one of the team’s few shots on target, I’m gonna laugh.

Big kudos to Zahra Khajavi

needs to be some credit to the Iranian keeper – she hasn’t stopped throwing herself at everything and definitely helped keep it close.

– Campbell

All the sitting-down aside, she’s absolutely been the reason Iran have kept this game to 2-0.

96′ Iran on the attack

Negin Zandi – Iran’s most dangerous player – picks up the ball and drives forward, feeding it out to her winger on the left side.

Zandi is the only red shirt that makes her way into the box, surrounded by four Matildas, waiting for a returned cross.

But it never comes. The ball from her team-mate is poor and easily intercepted and cleared away.

93′ It’s hard to keep up

Australia just keep attacking and Iran keep defending.

Ellie Carpenter had a chance before that went just wide, and Alanna Kennedy just had a header fizz past the wrong side of the post.

Iran haven’t done much other than throw their bodies in the way of every Matildas shot, which tallies 24 now, though only six have been on target.

It’s a lot, fam. My poor fingers are nubs.

Loading

11 minutes of stoppage time!

Bench depth

Hello Sam – I know it’s a qualifier and not a friendly, but it seems a tad harsh on the Iran to bring Sam, Mary and Steph on at the same time…

– Mike

Imagine being Iran. You’re probably exhausted, you’re a goal down, but you’ve had a couple glimpses of goal, you just need one little opening to be able to capitalise on an error…

…and then Sam Kerr comes on the field.

I’d just give up then and there. But that’s why I’m here tapping away at my computer and they’re out on the field!

86′ Wave after wave after wave

The Matildas just keep on coming, working down both wings, trying to pierce passes through the middle to Kerr.

The noise of the crowd is noticeably louder now that Australia’s World Cup heroes are out there.

Fowler, Catley and Kerr have undoubtedly added more energy and class to the Matildas going forward. You can see their chemistry already humming away.

Won’t be surprised if we see a third goal scored by the end of the game based on the number of chances those three have already created between them.

Anyone taking bets on the amount of added time?

The medics are working overtime

– Jack

There’s gotta be at least 10 minutes that have been used up by Iran’s players sitting on the grass, right?

83′ Australia substitution

That’s the last contribution from Amy Sayer tonight, who’s had a great game, I reckon. Would love to see her again when Australia face the Philippines on Sunday afternoon.

She’s replaced by Kyra Cooney-Cross.

81′ Chance Australia!

Oh my goodness, what a pass from Mary Fowler.

The Manchester City midfielder has been walking on air since coming onto the park, dancing between players and threading space-warping passes through lines.

She twists and brings an aerial ball down onto her foot balletically, seeing a run from Amy Sayer from deep midfield cutting through Iran’s defensive line.

Fowler anticipates the run and delivers a gorgeous reverse pass that takes out three Iranian defenders, right into Sayer’s charging path.

The midfielder shoots but Iran’s goalkeeper sticks out a strong left foot and it’s thumped away.

So nice to watch.

78′ GOAL AUSTRALIA

AND IT’S SAM KERR! ON HER RETURN TO HER HOME-TOWN!

The substitutes made it look way too easy: a simple one-two between Mary Fowler and Steph Catley sees a low, hard Catley cross towards the back post right into the cushioned foot of Kerr.

That’s international goal number 65 for Kerr. Different gravy.

2-0.

73′ Iran’s keeper is down

She’s holding her head after that collision earlier, sitting back down in the grass as Catley is standing over another corner.

The crowd isn’t holding back now: they loudly boo the Iranian player as the physios come back onto the field to hopefully perform a concussion test.

Catley already looks pissed. She’s bouncing the ball around with her other hand on her hip.

The goalkeeper eventually stands up and gestures around to her players like nothing is wrong.

Annoying.

Sports content to make you think… or allow you not to. A newsletter delivered each Friday.

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‘That’s a gift’: How the internet reacted to the Matildas’ heartbreaking 3-1 loss to England

Australia’s World Cup run has been halted by a ruthless England side, who ran out 3-1 winners in the semi-final.

Here’s how the internet reacted.

Pre-match, the phrase rang out: ‘Australia is one win away from the football World Cup final’.

Seeing these words form coherently into this gleaming sentence is like seeing the semi-trailer transform into Optimus Prime for the first time, a magnificent, fantastic reshaping of reality into the most astounding, spectacular thing you’ve ever seen.

But as we strode into this uncharted realm of rarefied tournament football, there the old familiar enemy sat, and it was something of a comfort to nestle into the well-worn grooves of animosity towards England, and of course reuse all the memes from the Ashes.

Matildas mania had again washed across the country, manifesting in new innovative ways. 

Patty Mills and the Boomers, whose game had been shifted to avoid being obliterated trying to compete in the Matildas’ timeslot, were repping Tillies jerseys in practice.

And while the sick cocktail of anxiety and hope recoated the lining of the Aussie fans’ stomachs, we could all be reassured knowing that, if things started going bad tonight, we could just pull a Barnaby and pop on the replay of Australia’s 2-0 friendly win over England back in April and cheer along with that, then turn off the television set and walk into the sea.

A jolt of pure hype rippled across the country as Samantha Kerr was named in the starting XI for the first time in this tournament.

The match kicked off.

Within 10 minutes, Sam Kerr had a chance, eventually confirmed as an offside one, saved one-on-one by Mary Earps, after being set loose by a superb Gorry lofted pass — the crowd’s appetite was whetted.

Georgia Stanway then had an equally good shooting chance at the other end, with Clare Polkinghorne caught out — a stolid kick-away save by Arnold kept her out.

England, perhaps attempting to combat the overwhelmingly home crowd, upped their physicality, earning and narrowly avoiding some bookings after some heavy challenges.

The complexion of the game was clear, though: Australia were ceding possession, England were venturing forward, Australia were trying to prosper on the break. 

Ellie Carpenter over hit a cross badly having been released by Hayley Raso after a neat interception and gallop; the physical play had set Australia off their rhythm in transition, the place where precision timing is paramount.

And England took the lead in a move dripping with both.

A neat exchange involving Alessia Russo on the left saw the ball cut back perfectly into the stride of Ella Toone, who struck it sharply inside the far post, into the top corner. It was a move that ticked and whirred like a pocket watch and finished with an almighty gong.

Mackenzie Arnold had gone six hours and 49 minutes without conceding a goal, but Australia were behind now.

The first half ended with a Steph Catley cross barely missing Kerr’s head, and as Carpenter went shoulder-to-shoulder with an English foe trying to retrieve the ball, she was barged out of the contest, conceding a throw; a fitting end to a half that saw England flex their muscles physically and tactically, and get the better of the Matildas. 

Early in the second half, Mary Fowler and Caitlin Foord combined, the former crossing to the latter from the right hand side, but Foord’s header couldn’t trouble Earps — still, a good sign for Australia.

The parade of English fouls continued, some called, some allowed to slip on by, as England wrested back control of the match.

Lauren Hemp tested Arnold from distance, shooting powerfully, with Arnold scampering across to bat it away — Millie Bright nearly scored with a downward header from the resulting corner. 

And then the limelight hit our talisman just right, and she stood up to meet it.

Kerr collected the ball on the halfway line, turned and powered toward the England goal. All alone, she smashed her shot up and over Earps, slightly deflected off a defensive calf, looping just under the bar. A wonder goal. A wonder player. Kerr had hoisted the team on her back and had done it herself. The stadium erupted. The face of the home World Cup had scored the goal of the tournament.

The Matildas were electrified by the goal, and suddenly Kerr had two more chances, shooting wide then heading right at Earps, as the green and gold players poured forward, England reeling, the home crowd raining cheers down like a monsoon.

Lucy Bronze stopped the bleeding with a cross that spun across the face of Arnold’s goal, then Russo headed barely wide, with Arnold beaten — England were not about to roll over.

And then Hemp went one better. Carpenter dallied with a clearance, facing her own goal, and Hemp snuck it, stole the ball, and slapped a shot past Arnold. 

A scavengers’ goal, England back in front, 2-1.

Kerr’s face in the aftermath was etched with frustration; Australia had been level again for just eight minutes.

Emily van Egmond and Cortnee Vine had come on, but if England had been winded by that Kerr thunderbolt, they’d caught their breath now and were steadied.

Kerr had a golden chance to equalise again, meeting a gorgeous Fowler curled cross, but too firmly, heading over. Vine drew a super save from Earps a minute later. 

Then Kerr had an even better chance, seeing the ball punched to her by Earps from an Australian corner; Kerr lashed at it on the volley, hit it high and wide, with plenty of goal to aim at. Her face was creased with pain.

And it would be compounded, as England tore down the other end of the pitch moments later, and Russo slotted the ball past Arnold, making it 3-1, and sealing England’s place in the final.

Hemp drove through the midfield to lay on the assist, cementing her player-of-the-match performance.

The English time-wasted expertly, and, in truth, had managed this match perfectly outside of a divine intervention by Kerr.

Hovering around on the edge of fair play, pushing physicality to the legal limit, snatching seconds away from your opponent and taking your chances; it’s what every fan wants their team to do.

Had world-class full back Carpenter not dithered on a clearance, had Kerr been match-sharp enough to take that volleyed chance, had a butterfly flapped its wings slightly harder, then the result may have been different, but they hadn’t and it wasn’t.

As the England players embraced after the final whistle, the Australian fans felt hollow.

And then that void was filled, as pride rushed in.

This Matildas campaign has bathed the country in light and warmth, and the millions of fans that watched and cheered and cried and basked in that light and warmth now hold it in them.

It’s part of the people now, self-sustaining, never to dissipate, radiating out for others to soak up, renewed by the memory of that Canada win, or that Fowler through ball, or that Kerr strike. You can feel it now, and you will forever.

Plus, it’s not really over, not yet: there’s still the third-placed match to come. 

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‘I’m not built for this’: How the internet reacted to the Matildas’ penalty shootout triumph over France

The Matildas are World Cup semi-finalists for the first time. And they did it after the longest penalty shoot-out a World Cup has ever seen. Here’s how the internet reacted.

Don’t throw off the vibe. Don’t burst the bubble. Don’t change a thing. 

A World Cup run is hard to start, harder to build, and harder still to maintain. The faster it gets, and the tighter the track as the tournament narrows, the more easily it can be tripped, toppled, sent whirring off course. 

Superstition abounded before this World Cup quarter final against France; match-day rituals were precisely observed, inadvertent jinxes were dodged at all costs, and the Australian starting XI was unchanged for the third game running.

It might have all felt a little too precarious, too good to be true, a twitchy tightrope walk with no net — yes, it might have, if the entire country hadn’t swelled up behind this Matildas team and its cause, a huge glossy wave of buttressing support.

Newspapers were plastered with Sam Kerr’s visage, and the doors of entire arenas were flung open to televise the game; never has a sporting campaign washed over the full breadth of the country like this, or been soaked up with such joy.

Caxton St was again sloshing with green and gold.

Final prayers were said.

The match kicked off.

A cagey opening, neither team pressing too furiously, or committing too much in attack.

The first chance of the match saw Kadidiatou Diani prey on a Kennedy miskick, sliced into the air, with the French striker spanking a shot wide; she had been dragged back too, Kennedy lucky not to be booked. 

A pair of France corners featuring the six-foot-three Wendie Renard was an horrific dance with doom, the second resulting in a one of the misses of the tournament, a point blank shot flicked over the bar by Maëlle Lakrar.

France were allowing Hunt and Kennedy to pass between themselves, but were swarming when the next, riskier pass needed to be made into midfield — it was uncomfortable viewing for the Aussie faithful.

The Matildas were vigorous in the tackle, running hard, but finding little in the way of fluid terrestrial passing, with most sequences of possession ending quickly in a ball lofted in vain over the midfield.

Mackenzie Arnold kept the score at 0-0, turning a shot around the post with half an hour gone.

A few breakneck Caitlin Foord-led surges aside, Australia had not troubled the French defence.

Then at the end of the first half, Mary Fowler had the yawning goal at her mercy, with the France keeper Pauline Peyraud Magnin out of her goal, and the ball squared to her.

She steered it goalward, and the Matildas going 1-0 up was as signed, sealed and delivered as a submarine contract.

Except Fowler’s shot was miraculously blocked by the thigh of Élisa De Almeida. A goal-saving block. God-like scrambling. A scarcely believable feat of defensive timing and effort.

A few minutes later, a lofted chip from Katrina Gorry sent Fowler in one-on-one again, but the keeper came steaming out, and stifled the finish.

A flurry of Australian chances to end the first half, but it finished scoreless.

When would we see Sam Kerr on the field? The second half began.

Fowler had the first chance of the second half, as the France keeper hit a poor clearing pass right to her; she swivelled and shot, but was deflected wide.

Then, with 35 minutes left, Kerr arrived, subbed on for Emily van Egmond.

She was instantly involved, surging forward with the ball setting up a move that saw Hayley Raso force a diving save with a goal-bound shot from distance.

The Matildas were leaning forward now, the field had tipped toward the French goal, the crowd was rattling the beams of Lang Park, and the chances were coming thick and fast.

Fowler had another golden shooting opportunity, hitting it right at the keeper’s legs, when either side would have bulged the net.

A France free kick that sent a ripple of panic through the Aussie defence reminded the faithful they were still a threat; one of these chances needed to be taken.

The initial plume of Kerr-mania subsided slightly, and France clambered back into the game, at first through set pieces, then eventually their passing game returned — in other words, the match was poised, waiting for one team to win it.

Caitlin Foord was toppled in the box, a penalty shout, her shirt pulled slightly. Not given. The final ten minutes of normal time began to tick down.

Arnold cut off several French crosses. Foord was a French toenail away from setting up Raso. Ellie Carpenter blazed over from distance. It was fraught.

Regulation time concluded, so to extra time we went.

Tony Gustavsson had only used one sub, and ten minutes of extra time came and went with the remainder of the bench unused.

A corner that had rolled out for a goal kick was awarded and spun in, France had the ball in the net, but the referee called a foul on Renard, dragging down Foord. Justice, if nerve-shreddingly arrived at.

The pacey Cortnee Vine came on, her first action was to flick the ball just past the post from a Foord cross. 

The match was contorting, gurning and thrashing to avoid going to penalties.

We were in the second half of extra time now, and Arnold tipped a powerful shot around the post. 

France was lifting now, forcing a perilous moment in the six yard box that needed a Catley block and hacked last-ditch clearance from the Matildas.

The final chances, corners, surges were the death throes of a match that had been torturous viewing throughout, that had rocked and jittered from beginning to end.

France manager Serge Renard subbed his goalkeeper off, in preparation for the penalty shootout. And a shootout would indeed decide this quarter final.

France went first: and Arnold saved it, shimmying, then diving to her right to put Australia on track.

Australia, and Foord, next: she slammed hers into the bottom corner. 1-0 Australia.

Diani was next, and stroked hers past Arnold. 1-1.

Steph Catley was next: her sidefooted shot, too close to the keeper, was padded away. Back on level terms in the shoot-out.

Renard, the French captain now: cooly finished to Arnold’s right. 2-1 France.

Sam Kerr, the talisman: slapped home, barely past the keeper’s glove, but there. 2-2.

Le Sommer next, and good. 3-2

Fowler next, just 20-years-old: smashed with venom into the bottom corner, 3-3.

The next France penalty … hits the post.

Then goalkeeper Arnold herself steps up, to win it: and she hits the post. Remarkable, excruciating, devastating, the story was written, and the fairytale ending was ripped away.

Arnold nearly saves the next penalty, getting her glove to it, but it flips past and in.

Katrina Gorry next, and she has to score to keep Australia in it: it barely creeps in after a solid contact by the keeper. This is almost too much to bear.

France’s next penalty is smashed into the roof of the net by Karchaoui.

Tameka Yallop now, still sudden death: she scores, passing past the keeper on the right. 5-5.

France’s next penalty; passed into the net, aerially, by Lakrar. 6-5.

Carpenter next, and we’re now so deep in the shootout line-up: in off the post, the least savable penalty you can hit. 6-6

Toletti next, and Arnold saves it low down to her left, near the post, a superhuman spring across the line.

But she was off her line — a retake, ordered by the VAR.

She saves the retake, same side, and this time it’s legal.

Now up steps Clare Hunt, with so few caps, to win it for Australia — and it’s saved, a strong hand down the middle of the goal. Astonishing. Another chance to win goes begging. 6-6, 18 penalties taken.

Feller next, and she hits the post. Once again Australia can win it.

Cortnee Vine now, and the whole nation asks ‘can she do it?’

She can. 

She wheels away, the crowd explodes. The Matildas make history. 

A semifinal. The first Australian team to make one at a World Cup. A marathon shootout, longer than any other in World Cup history, ends in glory.

Gustavsson drops to his knees, in tears. The players are leaping onto one another, the subs rush off the bench, it’s pure euphoria. 

At that moment, every one of the 45,000 people in the stadium, and every one of the millions at home, were hand-in-hand, the pure, golden current of the emotion of this triumph linking them together, feeding through them, all that hope shared and gripped tight and now this sweet glorious release.

The echo of this match will sing out sweetly for some time.

And a semifinal awaits.

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World Cup Diary: Kerr will start if fit enough for 90 – Gustavsson, new champion guaranteed as Japan bow out

If Sam Kerr is fit to play 90 minutes, she will start against France.

Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson cut to the chase when asked about the role Australia’s superstar captain would play in Saturday’s Women’s World Cup quarter-final.

Kerr has played a tick over 10 minutes against Denmark to date, with a starting front four of Caitlin Foord, Mary Fowler, Emily van Egmond and Hayley Raso thriving in her absence.

But Gustavsson dismissed the suggestion dropping someone for Kerr, if she is fit to start after returning from her calf injury, could disrupt that dynamic.

“They’ve been amazing teammates supporting each other. There’s been no complaints whatsoever in terms of if you start or come off the bench – they know their role and they play their role,” Gustavsson said.

“And I definitely would never, ever see Sam as a disturbance to the team.

“I want to be very clear in here now to say if Sam is fit to play 90 minutes, she is starting. There is not even a question and the team knows it.

“We’re talking about Sam Kerr here.

“Whether she is ready to play 90 minutes plus extra time, that’s to be decided tonight. But there is no question whatsoever that if she is, she is starting.”

Whether Kerr has the minutes in her legs to start, after minimal involvement to date since her calf injury, is another thing – and will be decided at a medical team meeting on Friday night.

Australia have consistently played mind games over the striker’s minutes, and could well use Kerr from the bench again.

“Is she going to play tomorrow or not? That’s not what worries me,” France coach Herve Renard said via a translator.

Striker Eugenie Le Sommer added: “It’s true that she’s a very big player, very good.

“She can score lots of goals and she can make the difference but I never focus on one particular player.”

All 23 players, including Kerr, trained at Brisbane’s Perry Park on Friday, though Kyah Simon left the main group early.

France know what it feels like to wilt under the pressure of a home Women’s World Cup, losing in the quarter-finals in 2019, and have tried to project that onto the Matildas.

“We’re hoping to put Australia through exactly what France went through when they were the host country,” Renard said this week.

Defender Ellie Carpenter expects Australia to embrace the pressure and urged the Brisbane crowd to bring the noise.

“I love the pressure and I think we love the pressure. We turn that into ‘look around – all these people in this stadium are cheering for us,’” she told reporters.

“We don’t take it on as pressure. We take it as look at this, it’s such a privilege being able to play at home in front of 50,000, 70,000, 30,000-odd people watching us, cheering us on and that only helps us.

“That’s our 12th player on the field and I cannot stress enough honestly throughout the game when you’re going through a tough period and we don’t have the ball for a bit and the crowd gets in, it really, really helps us.

“It’s no pressure at all. It’s honestly a privilege and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything than playing that game tomorrow. This is why we play football. It’s for these games.”

New champion guaranteed as Japan bow out

Sweden have blunted Japan’s Women’s World Cup charge and won through to another semi-final with a 2-1 victory in Auckland.

Goalsneak defender Amanda Ilestedt was at it again, netting a first-half goal before Filippa Angeldal iced the victory with a second-half penalty.

After Riko Ueki’s missed spot kick Japan did score a consolation, with Honoka Hayashi racing onto a failed block with three minutes remaining.

That goal ended Sweden’s run without conceding at 381 minutes.

However, after surviving 10 minutes of added time, the Europeans won the bigger prize: a semi-final against Spain back in Auckland on Tuesday night.

The result means the last remaining World Cup winner has been eliminated, and a first-time champion will be crowned in Sydney on August 20.

“We fought together,” teary Japanese captain Saki Kumagai said.

“We gave everything but our World Cup is over now.”

Until Friday night, world No.11 Japan looked a strong chance to repeat their 2011 glory, as the only side to have won all four of their matches in 90 minutes.

Instead, Sweden ended their campaign with a relentless press, harassing Japanese defenders into submission.

Nadeshiko couldn’t manage a shot for the opening hour, by which time the Swedes had put the game to bed.

The opener came on the half-hour mark, with Japan failing to clear four blocked or deflected shots, allowing Ilestedt to steal in and smash home from close range.

The Arsenal defender’s goal puts her in the frame for an unlikely golden boot.

Ilestedt now has four goals, following her three group stage headers, and has only Hinata Miyazawa, now eliminated from the tournament, above her on five.

Sweden continued their assault and were denied a healthier margin by a pair of sensational saves from Ayaka Yamashita.

Before the break, she did enough to tip Kosovare Asllani’s volley onto the post, which ricocheted off the inside of the post and clear.

Yamashita was at full stretch to deny Johanna Rytting Kaneryd’s effort early in the second half.

From that corner kick, the world No.3 grabbed their eventual winner, with Fuka Nagano unsighted and handballing, allowing Angeldahl to score her penalty.

Japan eventually came alive as Swedish legs – after 120 brutal minutes against the US in their round-of-16 clash – tired.

A feather-touch tackle by Sweden’s Madelen Janogy on Ueki brought the Japanese No.9 to the spot, only for her to thrash her penalty onto the bar.

Aoba Fujino then came extraordinarily close with a free kick that deceived Zecira Musovic, clattering off the bar and onto the goalkeeper’s head before bouncing clear.

As Musovic called for treatment, play resumed and Japan finally took a chance with Hayashi scoring an easy goal when an attempted clearance stopped the ball dead just five metres from goal.

There would be no equaliser, meaning Sweden have now made the last four in three of the last four World Cups, and sending Japan home.

© AAP



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