The Matildas have got their Cup of Nations campaign off to the perfect start, defeating Czechia 4-0 at Industree Group Stadium on Thursday night in front of 7,702 fans.
After an insipid opening 45 minutes, the floodgates opened soon after half-time with Hayley Raso scoring twice in the space of seven minutes before Sam Kerr notched a goal and Clare Polkinghorne, in her record-breaking 152nd appearance in the green and gold, putting the icing on the cake.
The squad’s focus now turns to the clash with an understrength Spain side on Sunday evening at CommBank Stadium.
The hosts started the game brighter, maintaining possession while Czechia were happy to sit deep and look for chances on the counter-attack.
Tony Gustavsson selected a mostly familiar starting 11 for Australia’s opening Cup of Nations encounter, with the Matildas almost at full strength. The midfield trio of Mary Fowler, Katrina Gorry and Kyra Cooney-Cross were winning loose balls and distributing as effectively as always.
A few pot shots were let off from outside the area, but that was as close as the Matildas got to an opening goal in the first 10 minutes.
Sam Kerr made a quiet start as she looked to get herself involved in the match.
In the 13th minute the visitors were presented with their best opportunity – a set-piece from the right and just outside the penalty area, but the poor delivery into the box was easily dealt with.
Kerr was starting to making a nuisance of herself and went down in the box in a tangle of legs, but half-hearted appeals for a spot-kick were soon waved away.
The hosts continued to dominate possession, though quality chances were few and far between.
Mackenzie Arnold was finally spurred into action from an Anna Dlaskova strike that was most likely going wide, but Arnold tipped it around the post for a corner.
Arnold was called upon again soon after when a poor giveaway by Aivi Luik allowed Michaela Khyrova to turn and fire off a good strike but the shot-stopper was up to the task.
As the first half ticked down, for all their possession and dominance the hosts were still yet to find the breakthrough, and Czechia continued to pose a threat on the counter.
It remained scoreless at half-time, Gustavsson no doubt casting his mind to some alterations come the second half.
The Swede went to his bench immediately, handing Clare Hunt her Matildas debut to partner the record-breaker Polkinghorne with Luik coming off.
The goal that seemed so elusive in the first half took just two and a half minutes to arrive after the break. Finding some room in the area after good play from Kerr, Hayley Raso opened the scoring with a deflected shot that made its way past Olivie Lukasova.
And before long the Matildas were two to the good with Raso doubling her money after a scrappy sequence in the penalty area.
In the 69th minute the hosts profited from another scramble in the penalty area to go 3-0 up, Kerr the beneficiary of some sloppy Czechia defending on this occasion.
On the day she broke the Matildas’ all-time appearance record, Polkinghorne put the icing on the cake with a well-taken goal following a corner.
Gustavsson doesn’t get too imaginative with starting 11
The Cup of Nations tournament provides a somewhat unique opportunity for Tony Gustavsson to tinker with his squad and find his ideal line-up with the World Cup only five months away now.
He did eventually turn to his bench, bringing on the likes of Larissa Crummer and Emily van Egmond for second-half cameos.
With two more games – against Spain in Sydney and Jamaica in Newcastle – there is more opportunity to give some of the more fringe members of the squad some much-needed minutes. There is, of course, merit to playing automatic selections like Kerr and Fowler but given the nature of a month-long tournament, injuries are almost guaranteed and recovery time is obviously significantly reduced, emphasising the need for depth players who can come into the side should a Kerr or Raso go down.
Polkinghorne becomes most-capped Matilda of all time
After making her 152nd appearance in green and gold tonight in Gosford, Clare Polkinghorne now holds the Matildas’ all-time appearance record. For her milestone match the 34-year-old was also handed the captaincy by head coach Tony Gustavsson.
On the wrong side of 30, this year’s Women’s World Cup on home soil may be the veteran’s last chance at international glory but her legacy has already been cemented as one of Australia’s greatest-ever players.
Raso at the double
After an uninspiring first half, the Matildas sprung to life immediately following half-time and it was Raso who netted her double in the space of just seven minutes.
The 28-year-old winger, who plays for Manchester City in the FA Women’s Super League, will be one of Gustavsson’s key attacking weapons come the Matildas’ World Cup opener against Ireland at Accor Stadium on July 20. With so much pressure on Kerr to deliver goals and at times carry the side on her shoulders, Raso provides another goal threat from wider areas and showed her perseverance tonight after a frustrating opening half.
Matildas 4 (Raso 48′ 55′, Kerr 69′, Polkinghorne 84′)
Image Credit: Cameron Spencer