The day we’ve all been waiting for, it’s here, I’ve finally graduated my degree. Wait a minute. That’s not until the end of the year. The other thing we’ve been waiting for is the first match day for the Matildas mission to conquer Asia, in the Women’s Asian Cup 2018. Conquering Asia is no mere feat, in fact you have to beat absolute quality teams, whose technical prowess will leave you gapping at times. So who did we have first up? South Korea. World number 14. We got this.
I tune in, groggy eyed, off the back of probably three hours sleep, but as it’s the first game, I’m feeling pretty good. Pretty certain our starting eleven was intended to confuse every dreary eyed Aussie, or maybe just me. We’ve got use to seeing Alana Kennedy absolutely command the centre of defence, so I didn’t even bother looking for her name in the starting eleven. When we get the ball to our centre backs I see Clare Polkinghorne, ok cool, we all knew she would likely start, but the player next to her is not Kennedy. No it took a while to figure it out, but Catley was there, with Elise Kellond-Knight playing left back.
From the outset, Korea looked keen to play. But we expected that yeah? Technically they’re good, the team can pass and have some absolute quality players who can control the game in the midfield. What I didn’t expect, and I’m hoping others are with me, was such a disciplined game from the start to the finish. At first I merely thought, oh Sam Kerr and Lisa De Vanna just aren’t playing very well today. But no, it wasn’t them. Our forwards were given no space to run in behind, and our midfield were completely outnumbered or just suffocated of any space to force anything to happen.
One way to wake up though, is for the first corner to be Korea’s. Ok, it wasn’t quite because Korea had the first corner, that happens. It was the corner nearly finding a completely unmarked Korean play on the back post, where had the first touch been better would have had an empty net to score the opener. Anyway, we seemed to learn from this early mistake, by simply not giving up many more corners.
The game was intense. If you’re the nervous, petting your cat far too harshly type, this game probably would have resulted in having an almighty peed off cat. Korea were extremely disciplined without the ball. Our midfield saw a lot of the ball, especially through the centre. I’ve been an advocate for getting our midfield more involved in games, but our combinations just weren’t good enough, with some sloppy passes at times really killing any potential at breaking down this side. We did try throwing everything and the kitchen sink at this side, Tameka Butt looked impressive when running with the ball at the compact Korean side, but it just wasn’t enough.
Highlight of this anxiety ridden half? The referee having none of the Korean sides time wasting. Usually it isn’t until the last 15-20 minutes of a game a ref will seriously intervene for time wasting. Not today, after a couple warnings, by the thirtieth minute Jang Sel-gi was yellow carded for time wasting. Who doesn’t love a ref taking control of a game like that?
Half time came, the inevitable happened. The game was goalless. With no clear chances at goal, only a few half chances, largely off dead balls, it wasn’t great attacking football by either side. Our forwards were frustrated, our midfield were working. They were exhausted, I was exhausted. No sleep to be found at half time though. Instead I went to Twitter to ask what an acceptable half time snack is at 4am. Apparently cereal without milk is a winning option, so will be preparing myself by stocking up on some for our next game.
The second half started. Still we are up against a team who have parked the bus. At this point honestly I just want to see Kellond-Knight more up to the midfield, because whenever she was on the ball, suddenly we were putting together passes capable of splitting open the Korean side. Could we make this happen? No. We probably need more left footed defenders to see Kellond-Knight only start in midfield, where she belongs.
My mantra for this half was “patience, patience, patience”. I was holding onto my pillow, praying for dear life we could somehow come up with some magic to get the break through. Unfortunately Korea demonstrated why defensive midfielders are so valuable, Young-Ju Lee provided that reliant brick wall, stopping anything from reaching the final third of the field. Further, we only had one opportunity to play in behind the defence, the way we like to play with our speed up front, that’s how good Korea were defending tactically.
This game was frustrating. So frustrating, even the ever cool Kellond-Knight lost her cool at one point. By this point though, we had all lost our cool. To add further salt to the wound, my stream started to freeze up a bit, one more thing to be nervous about.
We came close a couple times this half. With a golden opportunity coming for substitute Kyah Simon, who just couldn’t get a good connection with the ball so skied it over the net. I held onto hope right up until our final corner. But it came to nothing. Korea were playing for a draw. We had no plan B, something that was exposed against Portugal during the Algarve Cup. The game finished goalless. We get our first points of the tournament, but Korea do also. Frustration central mate.
With the game ending a dead rubber, the Matildas fanatical side of me hates seeing teams merely sitting back, soaking up pressure like this Koreans team did today. However my purely football, tactical side of me, loves seeing a team with a plan, executing it to a tee and defending so flaming well by giving us absolutely no space for a full 90 minutes. It’s an internal battle I am suffering in the aftermath of this game, and really hoping I don’t have to feel this way for our next games against Vietnam and Japan.
Anyway, onwards and upwards. We’ve got Vietnam next, again bright and early at 3am. So now is time to catch some zzz’s and hope we can come up with a plan B before we get to playing Japan Friday night.
Round 1 Results
China 4 – 0 Thailand
Jordan 1 – 2 Philippines
Japan 4 – 0 Vietnam
Australia 0 – 0 South Korea