The Matildas won their first game outside of Australia since January, beating South Africa 4-1 in London.
Cortnee Vine scored her first two goals for her country, whilst Claire Polkinghorne and Caitlin Foord both added goals of their own.
It didn’t take long for Australia to hit the front. Mary Fowler’s header was parried onto the post, but Vine was on hand to poke the ball over the line, setting the tone early on.
The Matildas doubled their lead after captain Steph Catley latched onto a loose pass on the edge of the penalty area and slid the ball towards the goal-line to Caitlin Foord. The Arsenal forward squared the ball across the six-yard-box, allowing Vine to deftly flick the ball into the far corner.
Claire Polkinghorne would add the Matildas’ third, towering over her marker to thump a header high into the net to cap a dominant first half for the Australians.
Foord added her name to the scoresheet eight minutes into the second half, turning her marker inside out and then whipping around her, before delicately guiding the ball around South Africa’s ‘keeper and into the far corner.
South Africa would grab a consolation goal in the final few minutes, when Hilda Magaia raced through onto a long ball before chipping Teagan Micah.
It’s Vine time!
Sam Kerr’s absence from the starting XI gave a rare opportunity to Cortnee Vine to lead the line.
Flanked by Raso and Foord, she wasn’t short on service and support throughout the match, and the three combined well on several occasions.
The Sydney FC forward showed predatory instincts to be alive to pounce on Regiri Nobeni’s error to score her first international goal, before showing her class with a superb backheel flick to double her tally.
She may not get many chances to lead the line when Kerr is fully fit, but she will certainly have raised herself in the estimations of Gustavsson.
Set-piece work pays off
Gustavsson identified set-pieces as the Matildas’ best scoring opportunity pre-match, and Friday’s training was rewarded with two first-half goals from Steph Catley corners.
A height advantage for the Aussies over their opponents was hammered home from the very start, with Fowler’s effort leading to Vine’s early opener. Polkinghorne would use her tall frame to power home a header of her own.
Furthermore, Katrina Gorry almost found the far corner with a whipped free-kick that evaded everyone in the box, before Catley’s delivery from the opposite side forced a South African defender to loop the ball onto the top of her own crossbar.
It’s a tactic that won’t work to the same extent against every nation the Matildas face at the 2023 World Cup, but it’s still handy to be efficient from them.
A step in the right direction
This was much more like the Matildas side the fans want to see, playing fearlessly and with innovation.
Gustavsson wanted his side to control the game, and for the vast majority of the match they did that. Stringing passes together at will, patiently building attacks but with strong intent.
This match was organized to replicate a scenario from the World Cup, where Australia will almost certainly face an African team in the group stage. They’ll have to be capable of breaking down defences whilst being mindful of threats on transition.
For the most part, the game was handled expertly, and the Matildas were able to show their class. The only slight blots on the copybook is that they could have been more clinical in the second half, and conceding a relatively soft consolation goal.
However, the fast start ensured the Matildas were comfortably in the ascendency throughout, something that will please both Gustavsson and Australia fans.
International Friendly: Kingsmeadow Stadium, London
Matildas 4 (Vine 5′, 23′, Polkinghorne 42′, Foord 53′)
South Africa 1 (Magaia 87′)
Matildas: Micah (GK), Luik, Polkinghorne, Vine (Chidiac 58′), Catley (c) (Nevin 70′), Grant (Crummer 70′), Foord (Gielnik 70′), Fowler (Logarzo 82′), Raso, Gorry (Kerr 82′), Cooney-Cross
Unused: Arnold (GK), Checker, Siemsen, McNamara