The Matildas World Cup campaign is off to a brilliant start after a professional 1-0 win over Ireland in a physical encounter on Thursday night.
Australia were dealt with a major blow before the game with captain Sam Kerr injuring her calf in training just 24 hours out from kick off.
The first half was rather lacklustre, with neither team managing to have a shot on target until Katrina Gorry tried her luck from 30 yards on the stroke of half time, not troubling Ireland keeper Courtney Brosnan.
The Matilda’s began with good intent, having the bulk of the possession and trying to create plenty of opportunities.
However, Ireland manager Vera Pauw set her team up very defensively and they proved quite difficult to break down, resulting in what was a stale first half.
The frustrated Matilda’s could not break down the Irish, even with stars Hayley Raso and Caitlin Foord trying their best to create and score.
Matilda’s best chance of the first half came from a Steph Catley corner which was headed wide by Raso.
Raso seemed most threatening to provide for the Matilda’s whilst Katrina Gorry was putting on a defensive masterclass in the heart of midfield.
The second half started with the Irish displaying their intent to go forward more, however that was immediately countered by the ‘Tillies with some dangerous attacks early into the half.
In the 51st minute, Kyra Cooney-Cross delivered a cross from deep intended for Raso, however she was impeded by Ireland’s Marissa Sheva and the referee immediately pointed to the spot.
Stand-in skipper Steph Catley was the one to step up the spot, and delivered a delicious penalty into the top left corner as Accor Stadium erupted.
From there, the game became very open and free-flowing and Ireland spent a lot of time on top.
Pressure continued to mount on the Matilda’s and Ireland found a lot of freedom down the wings, peppering crosses into Mackenzie Arnold’s box.
The continued pressure resulted in multiple corners to the visitors and Irish skipper Katie McCabe was continuously popping corner’s onto Arnold’s head.
Arnold was up for the challenge however, consistently claiming and punching away anything that came near her in the second half.
The Matilda’s remained disciplined and continued their brilliant organisation and defence, with Ireland managing nothing more than half chances for the entire 90.
Raso continued to work her magic, being the talisman of some dangerous counter-attacks, but frustratingly none came to fruition.
Ireland came dangerously close to a 90th minute leveller after a Megan Connolly free kick went agonisingly close to dipping into the top corner.
The girls in green continued to pepper the ‘Tillies 18-yard box in injury time but our girls stood tall and comfortably dispatched any danger.
A dangerous 96th minute attack from Ireland saw a golden chance for Katie McCabe, however was brilliantly stopped by Mackenzie Arnold, resulting in a 1-0 win to the Matilda’s in their opening World Cup match.
Sam Kerr takes away a big part of the Matilda’s structure
The loss of Kerr is a big one in more ways than one.
Her ability to hold up the ball, pick out a final pass and hit the back of the net are next to none, and unfortunately that wasn’t present in the Matilda’s lineup tonight.
We’ve seen Mary Fowler produce brilliance many times as a substitute for Tony Gustavsson, and she was handed a huge job replacing Kerr tonight.
It’s big shoes to fill and although Fowler has that X Factor we have seen many times before, her ability to hold up play and find a final pass was missing and it took away a big part of the ‘Tillies structure going forward.
She’s likely to get another chance against a weaker opponent for the next group stage game, but it’s vital that Kerr is fit for games against stronger opposition.
Katrina Gorry is the heartbeat of this team
Veteran midfielder Katrina Gorry was at her very best tonight, putting in a player of the match display in a game that strongly required her attributes.
Gorry’s aggression and fight was vital against an extremely physical Ireland team, and she dominated in the middle of the park making a game-high six tackles on her way to an exemplary defensive display.
The support is better than ever
Over 75,000 people packed into Accor Stadium to watch the Matilda’s first World Cup match, oblitering the women’s soccer attendance record set at Marvel Stadium only 6 days ago.
The Australian support is going to be a huge confidence booster for our girls at every match and it is unlike anything we have ever seen before in this country for women’s sport.
This type of support can drive a team to go very deep into a tournament and who knows… maybe our girls will be lifting the World Cup trophy in early August.
Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images