Matildas must rebound in second match against Chile
The Matildas stumble in Penrith demands some constructive criticism13 November 2018 | Stuart Thomas
Football is of course, a game of opinions and the challenge of expressing them succinctly without appearing agenda driven is constant. Therefore, tackling the somewhat listless performance of the Matildas on Saturday sat a little uncomfortably with me.
Constructively criticising women’s teams is still interpreted as scepticism and negativity in some quarters. However, doing anything but identify weaknesses and flaws in Saturday’s performance is disrespectful to the team and women collectively.
The Matildas are all that is brilliant about Australian football. Female athletes finally paid more than peanuts to play the game they love; women representing the multicultural diversity of our nation and providing inspiration to the next generation of women footballers.
The journey to true equality and parity for teams such as the Matildas has well and truly begun, and the 'pioneering' days of female professional sporting leagues is coming to an end.
Just as would be said of the Socceroos had they dished up a performance similar to the one that the sixth ranked Australians did against Chile on Saturday, the Matildas effort deserves comment and analysis.
Contextually, it should have been a walk in the park for the home side. At huge odds to win the match, the 39thranked Chileans were given little hope.
More broadly, the two matches against Chile are important fixtures with potentially significant ramifications. The Matildas must maintain their highest ranking possible, knowing full well that the World Cup draw is looming.
Falling out of the top six could have dire consequences and lead to an unfavourable match-up against a world powerhouse earlier in the tournament than they would like.
Of course, much of that is guesswork at this stage but if coach Alen Stajcic’s gesticulations on the sideline at Penrith were anything to go by, he too feared the worst.
Just over twelve months ago at the same venue, women’s international football in Australia came of age. With friends, family and fans cheering them on, the women’s national team beat Brazil 2-1 in front of a sell-out crowd. A second and also well attended match followed in Newcastle just days later.
That pattern is to be replicated for the two match series against Chile, yet the first part of the mission has proven a failure.
Despite the home side starting positively and leading after an Emily van Egmond penalty in the 9th minute, Chile slowly but surely worked its way into the game. So much so, that by late in the match, the visitors were knocking the ball around confidently and giving the Matildas a footballing lesson in midfield.
By that stage Chile had built a 3-1 lead on the scoreboard and the Australians appeared bereft of ideas to retake control of the contest.
Earlier, some of the play was alarming in the sloppiness of its execution. Laura Alleway had a lamentable moment with a weak back pass that put unnecessary pressure on Lydia Williams. The mad scramble that followed saw Francisca Lara find an open net to level at 1-1. Had Clare Polkinghorne shown a little more awareness and desire to shut down the potential danger, the moment could have been avoided.
Up front, Caitlin Foord’s inconsistent control and first touch were exposed time after time. Blessed with power and speed, Foord struggled against the dexterous Chileans.
However, she was not alone. Chloe Logarzo had numerous opportunities to fire in effective balls from the flanks yet was also caught out technically, with many attempted crosses failing to get airborne; ultimately being blocked by defenders.
Lisa De Vanna appeared to be playing something of a lone hand, ferreting through the midfield and trying to spark something for the Australians. With limited quality ball up top, Sam Kerr came looking for it late in the match. It was alarming that she was able to create more down the right edge as an attacking midfielder than those whose job it originally was to provide her with quality service.
Having a star like Kerr up front becomes a moot point if the service to her is poor. It was the Australians' Achilles heel all afternoon as things went from bad to worse.
After a 48th minute header to Carla Guerrero saw Chile take the lead, an element of panic and frustration became apparent.
Ellie Carpenter worked tirelessly and was one of the few Australians whose first touch rivalled that of the visitors. Tameka Butt and substitute Katrina Gorry struggled in that area and were consistently bodied off the ball by astute and efficient defending.
Yessenia Huenteo’s 90th minute goal sealed the deal for the visitors despite a late flurry and a second van Egmond penalty. In truth, Chile were deserved winners and its supporters, after initially appearing shocked by their team’s competitive first half, began to rightfully celebrate.
Thankfully for the Matildas, Tuesday presents an opportunity to reverse the result and forget the three goals to two defeat.