Gee. That’s a hard. Seeing the side you love lose for in a second major tournament in a row to penalties isn’t pretty. I may or may not be eating ice cream whilst writing this up. Yes it’s around 12 hours after the fact and I need ice cream to get through this.
Supporting a team means feeling the highs and lows. Through the lows it’s when we come together, feel a bit crap before we learn what went wrong so we can come back stronger. For argument’s sake, look at Norway. They bombed it in the Euros two years ago. Big time. Now? I’d say they’re faring pretty well. So the most important thing at the moment? We stick together and know that we will be stronger because of this. Because this is a team who brought hope to a nation. And now it’s time we get behind them because they’ll be back to set the world alight once again.
Someone asked me recently how far the Matildas could go. I replied with, if we avoid European sides we could go pretty deep. Meet a nation from that continent? And it’ll be as difficult as it’s been for me to cook a decent banana bread the other day. But gee, we got close to getting that banana bread.
As a warning, I’m not ready to discuss the refereeing and VAR. Yes that somewhat (largely) marred the match. However that discussion is probably better had without so many emotions and a tad more research than my sleep deprived, depressed self can handle. So, yes the officiating was worse than someone convincing me to eat an oreo dunked in water. But here’s some other things about the game.
Now. Lets rip off this bandaid.
THE KEY BITS
CREATING SPACE IN ATTACK
It probably tastes a little sour right now. But. The Matildas actually created some really exciting bits of play. Sam Kerr didn’t look like a stunned mullet when she was marked out of the match. Rather she dropped deeper and looked to create something. While Hayley Raso was my personal player of the match for the Matildas until the 70th minute when she was subbed (then stepped up wonder woman, Lydia Williams in goal). The way Raso darted in the space between the lines was magic, shaking things up in the final third.
It would be a lie to say the attack looked good throughout the full 90 minutes then extra. However, the ideas were produced and we mixed it up a little bit. Not nearly as much as we should have. Yes wayward crosses seem to remain our favourite option towards goal. Still, the foundation is there to becoming less one dimensional in our attack.
Particularly in transition, those were the opportunities the Matildas looked most likely to break Norway down. Given the pace in the final third, knowing how to work a quick transition I’d argue is more important than knowing how to be patient on the ball to break down a side. If the game is getting messy and open, that’s when the Matildas should go for the kill, head directly towards goal and take a gamble with an effort created from that manner.
It’s the simple things that win or lose football games. Yeah we love the magic moments, but overall it’s the little things that need to be done correctly to win a football game. Giving up the ball too often in key areas is as bad as dropping a cake you’ve just brought out of the oven. Yes. You can recover and fix it with some icing perhaps, but gee your back is against the wall and you’re feeling a bit hot under the collar because of it.
This is an area that has been exposed consistently in France. The simple passes that suddenly put the defence under pressure completely unwarranted. The knife demolishing the cake is also in how the side puts emphasis on keeping possession deep and playing in front of the opponent. Yeah I could argue that is a dull, lifeless tactic we shouldn’t be employing. But it’s the way the Matildas have played for sometime, so it was inevitable.
Perhaps the crux of the Matildas playing in a style that requires these simple passes executed correctly is having a player in the centre of the park who is a passing ninja. With Elise Kellond-Knight out at left back and an out of sorts Emily Van Egmond stepping up, unfortunately it just didn’t work out. While Van Egmond had a solid game, the passes she looks for are required further up the park. Not the simple 95 percenta passes from that deep in the field that’s required.
Could Luik have solved this situation? That’s a question for another day. Because right now I’m still fuming that it seems our coaching staff didn’t go into this tournament knowing the squad inside and out to truly attack this competition in the methodical squad planning that was required.
Lyds deserves a spot to herself here. She was magnificent. The goal was far too good to stop. Penalty shoot outs when a bit banged up is a nightmare. But as the game windled down and hopes were on the line for the Matildas to do something, Williams well and truly stepped up. She sealed herself away in Tillies folklore honestly. She was magnificent. Some of her stops were out of this world.
I love when players are big game players. Particularly when they’re goalkeepers. There’s little doubt Williams is a big game player. Absolutely huge.
Norway no way. But honestly. They were flaming good. They knew their system to a tee, executed the game plan and showed the world what they’re capable of with an exciting young squad. Their midfield is one I look at with complete admiration.
My eyes light up watching Ingrid Engen, who is a player who really should be signed to one of the big clubs after this tournament because she’s been immense. Even in a game where she wasn’t at her very best, she was beautiful to watch in the screening role.
Then there’s Caroline Graham Hansen who was an absolute terror but jaw droppingly, grab your popcorn and record it for your future grandchildren good. Norway played a formation here where it allowed Graham Hansen to play freely where she wanted. They had Isabell Herlovsen who held the line up top, and the usual looking four in the midfield. This allowed the magician to play with freedom that you only dream to provide to a player that special and gifted on the ball.
Norway were strong in how they were organised. Did their homework to mark Kerr out of the game. Created some golden opportunities, knowing where the spaces were or even where they should be with the occasional wayward pass into good areas. They could go deep into this tournament if their starting XI stays fresh, which would wreck me again if they knock out their potential next round opponents in England.
WHERE TO FROM HERE FOR THE MATILDAS?
We mourn what could’ve been and be proud of what’s been achieved. Seriously. The side has set imaginations running, a whole nation behind them and put not just themselves into the nationwide conversation but the sport to demand a seat at the table.
And then? We learn and build. There’s talent both in the squad and coming through. There’s depth in our leagues if we search the right areas and focus on letting these players become fully professional, whether that’s in Australia or abroad. Ping Canada for a nation who doesn’t have a national competition but an unreal program farming players to the USA and Europe.
We look to the Olympic qualifiers. Work on getting the system Ante Milicic is implementing going like a well oiled machine then conquer Tokyo.
In the words of one of the best movies ever. The Matildas: “I’ll be back”.