Oh boy. How was that game a 1 all draw? The Matildas should’ve been cooked cactus by the end of the first half. England twice had the ball in the back of the net were dismissed as no goals (rightly or wrongly, I’m too invested to give an independent view of these events), plus they had a couple serious, serious penalty calls. How we managed to make it into halftime only one down and to nick a goal in the dying stages of the game is something that deserves credit, but gee my heart.
Look I’ve got to be in my car heading to uni in about an hour, so let’s talk about this game so I can actually focus somewhat in my classes today.
England brought it. From the kick off, they had possession, looked comfortable with it and looked to have the key to unlock the Matildas defence with the ball in behind the defence. Meanwhile, we looked the opposite of composed. Without the ball in the first half, we looked lost, leaving too much space and had no idea how to deal with Bronze or Kirby. Then with the ball, we couldn’t combine well enough. There were glimpses of potential, Sayer in particular did very well carrying the ball to force transitions. Unlike against France, this time round saw some opportunities going forward for the Matildas, which is progress. But still we looked like a side strung together, with mismatched personnel, who had no idea how to play with each other or as a block to deal with the English.
The second half saw a much more disciplined display. There was one point where we were actually defending as a block and England had to wait a good minute to find that ball in behind the defence. Again, we created a few half chances and didn’t look nearly as uncomfortable as the first half. Still England dictated play a bit (a lot), but at least we weren’t cactus and were stringing together some half chances, with the unlikely hope of a sneaky goal. Just as I was thinking our corners in Europe just haven’t been up to scratch, Kellond-Knight steps up to the plate and serves us an early breakfast, by dishing out a corner that was destined to go into the back of the net as the English defence couldn’t figure out what was going on and Polkinghorne was there to make sure it went in.
Defence. It hurts me to say this, but we really don’t look good without the ball. Is it because we don’t have the organiser in Lydia Williams there? Or is it because we’ve got a makeshift defence? Or some other random reason? I think it’s a mixture of all of those things. We clearly need Williams in goals to marshal the defence. Macca has been excellent with her saves here in Europe, but either it’s the organisation side that seems to be lacking or confidence the defenders have in her. Either way, despite the stunning saves, Lyds has to be our number one choice. Even if it’s just to hear her soothing yelling through our tv sets once again.
Predictable. Have we become predictable in our play? Only a blind man would think the Matildas would set up in a different formation than 4-3-3. And if you’re clever, you’ll adapt to really dampen that three fast forwards we usually play by dropping deep, and looking for the quick transition with the long ball in behind the defence, as both France and England used with success against the Matildas high line. Of course you have a formation to suit your best players, which we weren’t able to field here in Europe. However, the development of women’s football has finally got to a stage where the best teams need to be able to shift formation during a match and adapt. The biggest questions we leave Europe with must be whether this team has that ability to adapt to different formations, having a plan B when the going gets tough. We had no plan B in the Asian Cup when up against defences that parked the bus. We don’t look to have a plan B against sides comfortable with the ball, who press without it yet either. This is something that can be sorted before the World Cup, but it needs to have been sorted yesterday and implemented ASAP.
Club seasons. One thing to consider off the back of these matches is both France and England are a month or so into their new seasons. Meanwhile our players either don’t know what an off season looks like and have been in a perpetual state of playing since the 2015 World Cup, or they’ve been playing state level waiting for the short season that is the W-League. Serious questions need to be asked about how we want to set up and prepare for important competitions like the World Cup and Olympics and what effect not having a full time league in Australia has, and the effect on key players (or really the starting XI) being on the clock year round between Australia and the US, having no off-season as the Europeans or even the Americans have and the impact this has on the side. What’s the answer for this? I’ve got ideas, but that’s a completely different post and would require far more research than my currently last month of law study brain is capable of right now. But something needs to give, we need a better plan for what club competitions our international players are playing in, whether that’s changing the league here at home, or figuring out a way to minimise the amount of games when adding on European or American seasons.
Never Say Die. The three words that get thrown around a lot, especially in competitions for this Matildas side. Well it worked. Because in a match that shouldn’t have gone our way, this attitude meant we had a leaping Polkinghorne come up with the goods, securing the unlikely draw. It’s important to be able to grind out results on off days (or off weeks as this seems to have been). We did so today, and will no doubt need to do it again. Does that mean we sit back pretty going “yeah we’ll scrape through somehow”. No. But it does mean our work effort when play just hasn’t gone our way doesn’t back off in the dying stages of the match, waiting for the inevitable whistle signalling a loss. It means we still fight.
Anyway, that’s my wrap up for now. I’m sure I’ll have plenty more to say once I’ve digested the game as I’m sat in 4 hours of criminal procedure this afternoon. But for now, catch you for the W-League season starting in 15 days! Be sure to head over to Facebook and Instagram and chuck a “like” or follow to catch the season preview of each side as they will be out soon (trust me it’s quality content, my mum even called me “creative”, which is massive props for someone whose the academic among musician and writer/artist brothers).