First thing, I thought kick off was at 7 o’clock. I finish work at 7pm on the dot (right when the news finishes), so I rushed out the door. The news hadn’t even fully finished when I was out the door, during the closing images saying “love you guys, but football, see you tomorrow”. Turns out it was 7.30. There was no need to rush noob. Of course it would’ve been better to actually get to the matches, how I’d planned initially when the announcement of three home matches was dropped by the Matildas. However, gotta adult and think long term. I’ll now have money to actually get to more matches and not merely skint by.
Anyway THE MATCH! What you’re all probably here for I suppose. Two nil against New Zealand. I’ll take that. Here’s some thoughts about the match.
Movement and passing. From the get go it was clear the Matildas mission in this game was to pass and play two touch football, much like my mission was to cook some buffalo wings and drink some cider whilst watching the match. At times we were perhaps a bit rushed in executing, however, our movement and passing was good. This didn’t look like a side who’ve only been in camp a few days. The majority of the passing was crisp, players were connected, moving and it was a delight to watch. We’ve looked close to playing this way in the past, however there was one seemingly key difference this time round. It was in the way we attacked, going forward with intensity, wanting to break down a bus that was more or less parked by New Zealand. We’ve still got some issues in how we go about getting through a deep defence, with two banks of four (sometimes five), however there were glimpses here of figuring out that rubix cube.
For New Zealand, this was a completely different outing to how they were set up during their World Cup qualifiers, and rightly so. They came in, head to ground, determined to protect the goal and play on the counter. As this side gets more comfortable together, under Sermanni and perhaps playing a team outside of the top ten, they will hopefully change things up and bring back their higher pressing fullbacks. But against the Matildas, it was a matter of how to minimise the threats. They did this well. Erceg made certain Kerr didn’t have an opportunity all match, bar perhaps a header or two (it would take a superhero to eliminate Kerr’s aerial threat). Moving Stott to right back midway through the second half was a good move. Moore proved more than capable of dealing with the threats coming through the centre, while Stott provided a really exciting option moving forward with the positional switch between the two, whilst keeping Foord and then De Vanna at bay. You can’t go past the work of Gregorius when looking at this Football Fern performance. Yeah, she was offside most of the time, but an early ball through would’ve set the game alight. Sermanni loves having a side bank down and work the counters, he could very well have a side like that here. It’s definitely a space to watch and see how they develop both here at the Cup of Nations and further down the track at the World Cup.
Essential to the match was New Zealand’s lack of press, particularly on the Matildas defensive midfielder. Whilst on the field, Kellond-Knight had the run of play. Want to pass out to the left? Sure, here’s a bucket load of space for you to do so. Want to turn and play it out the other way? Yeah why not, you’ve got the time on the ball. Seeing KK back in the centre of the park, dictating play, was a sight for sore eyes.
Another player back in their rightful position and schooling it was Catley. Our freshly anointed vice-captain, is the key to this side both on the attack and in defence. Catley’s ability to whip in a threatening cross is better than Mars Bars, and created the opportunity of the first goal for Gielnik. The left back put in a ball on a spoon, had everyone on the front post attacking. With other ideas, the ball sailed past Kerr and co on the front post to land squarely at Gielnik’s feet, whose technique is that of an ice dancer doing those impressive in-the-air spins. Bottom far corner to bring the Matildas ahead before the end of the first half. Well deserved for the forward, who looked a real threat down the flank.
Wholesale changes made on the hour mark, whilst could’ve caused some havoc, was a masterstroke. Not only were key players given some time to put up their heels, but others who haven’t been spotted in a gold and green shirt in yonks had their opportunity to stake their claim in the squad in front of their home crowd. The substitutes didn’t disappoint. All will be causing Milicic a headache right now.
It was Raso who rightfully so should be taking up the back page of any newspaper with her substitution performance. Any time the ball was forward, even when the opportunity was dead, Raso turned on the jets and looked threatening. How any defence can contain her would also probably know the answer to avoiding grabbing anything down the lolly aisle at the shops. Not only did Raso bring pace, it was pure skill that saw her finish and double the Matildas lead. Finding the right run to be fed the ball in a one on one situation with a Kiwi centreback, Raso dribbles a bit, drops the shoulder, completely baffles her defender to create the space and take the punt. Said punt was hit bottom corner, crisp into the back of the net.
Ribbons, you’ve got my heart.
I’ve still got some concerns with our defence. Particularly when we play with a high line and expect a master, last ditch challenge to deal with any counter situations. Could the Matildas play with a slightly more conservative midfield to adjust to games we’ve got to hunker down the hatches a bit? Or to even delay the quick transitions of the opposition? I’m unsure, it’s obviously yet to be tested under this administration. Perhaps this is where we miss Gorry in the midfield winning challenges. Either way, how our defence deals with keeping sides at bay off the counter attack is something we can look at right now, and apart from playing an offside trap reasonably well, we didn’t look super on top of dealing with these threats without professional fouls. Sure, it’s pretty hard to tell from a game where the Matildas were on the front foot and New Zealand had scant chances. However, the one time Gregorius wasn’t offside, she had a goalscoring opportunity, only missing due to her technique not due to any applied defensive pressure. I could be wrong, we could go through the next ten games without conceding. But it’s something to think about.
Anyway, I’m off to find some sleep. I’ve got the delightful play of South Korea v Argentina to catch up on too. So catch you sometime after the Matildas Sunday match, where we take on South Korea. It’s going to be a baller.