A first-half attacking clinic from the Matildas has seen them claim a 3-2 victory over Spain in their Cup of Nations match at Commbank Stadium.
In front of 17,333 fans, the Matildas attack was in a league of it’s own as it tore apart a beleagured Spain side in the opening 45 minutes.
In a sharp contrast to the Matildas opening Cup of Nations match, both teams started lively, and after Spain had a couple of half chances through Redondo, Cortnee Vine lit up Commbank Stadium with a truly remarkable strike from outside of the box in the 11th minute.
Haley Raso’s driving run pinned the Spain defence back, and she laid the ball off to Vine, whose brilliant finish went into the top corner.
The Matildas doubled their lead just five minutes later, when from a second phase play after a corner the ball fell to Claire Polkinghorne, who smashed the ball into the net via the arm of keeper Isabel Rodriguez; it was the defender’s second goal in as many games.
After a frenetic start, the tempo of the game slowed as Spain began to take control of the ball and methodically find chinks in the Matildas armour, but Tony Gustavsson’s side continued to cause a heavy threat in transition.
Sam Kerr thought she had her side’s third goal in the 37th minute when she headed home from a quality Cooney-Cross delivery, but she was narrowly offside. The Matildas would have their third soon enough, as Caitlin Foord got her head to a Steph Cately free-kick and finished emphatically, though the marking from Spain left much to be desired.
Kerr could have made it four when she latched onto a Foord long ball, but she conspired to uncharcteristically drag her shot wide.
Spain did their best to get back into the contest; Polkinghorne almost directed a cross into her own goal, and the away side had a sustained period of possession in and around the Matildas goal. Arnold pulled off a top save to deny Redondo from point blank range just after the hour mark.
They eventually pulled one back through Garcia Carmona, who scored a fantastic volley from the edge of the area in the 74th minute. And they made for an interesting finish when Redondo scored a great first time volley in stoppage, but the goals came too late for Spain.
The only other downside for the Matildas was Haley Raso exiting the game early in the second half with a hand injury that she picked up earlier in the match.
PRIME TIME VINE
In a side full of player plying their trade in the top European leagues, you would have thought that Cortnee Vine was one of those players, such was the quality of the Sydney FC winger’s performance.
From the first whistle, she terrorised Spain with her blistering pace and direct running, and her opening goal was simply sublime and one of the best Matildas goals in recent memory.
Playing in a front line with one of the best players in the world in Sam Kerr and Haley Raso of Manchester City, many would think it would be difficult for Vine to stand out, yet she did just that against Spain, showing that she could take her form for the sky blues into the green and gold.
It is difficult to see Vine remaining a player in the A-League Women for much longer.
WALTZING MATILDAS ATTACK ON FIRE
In truth, the whole Matildas attacking line was on form in Parramatta. Whilst the Matildas didn’t have the majority of the ball, when they regained possession they broke at massive speed and tore a stretched Spain defence to shreds at times.
The plan was clear to hit the channels as often as possible to utilise the speed of Vine, Raso and Foord. Steph Cately and Charli Grant were also bombing forward often to offer another outlet for a rampaging attacking side.
Sam Kerr, who switched between playing up top with Foord or just behind in the number 10 slot, was pulling the strings at time and being involved in almost every attacking play, with the only thing missing from her performance being a goal (though many will argue she was wrongly denied a goal in the first half).
For a Matildas side that doesn’t always shine defensively, they need their attack to be on song, and it sure was under the Sunday night lights.
It has not been an easy tenure for Tony Gustavsson as Matildas coach. At around this time last year he was attracting fierce criticism from all corners for a dismal Asian Cup campaign.
The Swede has often told the media that he has been building up his side to slowly become ready for the home World Cup in July, with results at the back end of last season suggesting the team was on the right track.
This win over Spain in particular after their last meeting will do wonders for the team’s confidence. It was against a Spain side weakened by off the field drama, but it was important for the Matildas to ensure they rammed home their advantage with a strong performance and victory. Whilst the team waned slightly as the match wore on and changes were made, some of the football was up there with the Matildas best in recent memory.
Gustavsson will feel that his team’s performance has vindicated much of the decisions he has made and how he has approached this massive year for the team.
Matildas 3 (Vine 11′, Polkinghorne 16′, Foord 41′)
Spain 2 (Carmona 74′, Redondo 90+4′)
Image Credit: Matt King/Getty Images