Game 1: The next generation, shirt fronts and 70th minute chaos

More than 15,000 celebrated the return of international football to Australia. Picture: Football Australia

There’s so many story lines to Saturday night’s match that it’s difficult to know where to start.

The first match back in close to two years. All the while players and officials were kept at arm’s length from family and fans because of COVID-19… the reason it had been so long since many of them were last on Australian soil.

Then there’s the opponent. Brazil. It’s always emotional against the South Americans. The history between the two nations is magnetic. 

Rather than dampening spirits, the rain was cause for celebration. It served as an analogy for the tears many of us had overflowing from the pure joy and chaos that was the Matildas against Brazil in COVID-hit Sydney in October 2021.

I’m so dang proud.

The next generation starts: NOW

The next generation is now. Picture: Football Australia

Kyra Cooney-Cross.

Mary Fowler.

A lot was flung onto their shoulders for this match. Both stood up when it mattered.

Starting with my favourite position, Cooney-Cross at defensive midfield. Without the safety Emily Van Egmond has provided in previous matches and within a 4-3-3 system, where defensive midfield is needed, Cooney-Cross showed she is Elise Kellond-Knight heir apparent. 

The first half was full of short passes, often with her back to goal, just keeping things ticking. There was a mistake or two, as if trying to catch up with the pace and intensity that is a friendly between Australia and Brazil. But overall, solid.

Cooney-Cross found a higher gear in the second half. Two sweeping, diagonal balls out to Caitlin Foord is enough to make a grown woman cry with happiness. And then cry with disappointment when the opportunity was wasted. 

There’s still elements to her game that need improving. And the question of whether she should specialise in defensive midfield or play a hybrid, rotating role moving into attack in interchange with Van Egmond. My old school way of thinking is to specialised, but given the fluidity of the Matildas’ front half it’s likely the hybrid model will be followed.

Either way, I’d love for Cooney-Cross to ply her trade overseas, preferably in Europe. Learn more of the tactical and positional side of the game. She already has the brain for it. It’s time to experience the consistency of working at that higher level week-in and week-out.

Then there’s the crowd favourite. Mary Fowler.

It almost appeared to be a quieter game for her, particularly for the first half. But look closer and you’ll notice she was all over the field eating up space while off the ball. Adaptable, moving deep to accommodate Ellie Carpenter’s bombing runs forward. This is a side of Fowler’s game that I wasn’t sure she had in her. It’s a side of the game many young Matildas’ forwards have had to demonstrate while cutting their teeth. Fowler showed it.

To finish off such a level-headed, team-focused match with a beautiful headed goal. Mate. Delightful.

The next generation is here and they’re here to stay. Players like Bryleeh Henry, Charlotte Grant and Clare Wheeler are all here to stay. 

It’s the season to mould the old with the new. It’s only going to create a solid foundation to flourish in 2023. How exciting!

Shirt fronts

Ok, there weren’t any full on shirt fronts… this time round. But the intensity of the match didn’t disappoint.

Like old foes sparing, it was anything but friendly. It was dead serious business like cooking a good fried egg in the morning. A couple knees to the face were incurred. Hands flying everywhere. It was entertaining, engaging, absorbing stuff.

The Matildas intensity and enthusiasm to attack showed what we all know they’re capable of. Trouble is at the other end, sitting on the ball, being pressed into a turn over in the centre of the field, deep in the park, also showed what they’re capable of.

Unlike games against Germany, Ireland and Sweden, Brazil only capitalised on one of those mistakes. Not the multiple that could’ve been.

Tony Gustavvson has shown he is willing to change the system to see what will work. Including reverting back to a 433 for the majority of this game. I’m hoping patience pays off and Gustavvson can bring in the reinforcements and system that will galvanise our defence.

Otherwise I’ll be tempted to shirt front someone myself to ask why must we build a defence reminiscent of jelly when we could have the structure of a Cadbury block of chocolate.

70th minute chaos

In a friendly match with twenty minutes to go, most teams decide to throw on some fresh young legs. God bless Brazil for disagreeing with that.

Marta. Debinha. A double substitution that strikes the fear of God into you.

There was no way the intensity was going to die down with that substitution. 

The Matildas did throw on youth. Wheeler, Henry, Grant and Remy Siemsen. Why not but for the experience of playing against the might of Marta and Debinha.

Centre back goals

Matildas social media was bang on point with this Clare Polkinghorne celebration for the opening goal. Picture: Football Australia

As if I was going to ignore the opening Clare Polkinghorne goal.

I had the great pleasure of watching this game with my dad. The pair of us at the free kick were saying it would be a wasted opportunity to not just take a direct shot.

Both of us were happy to be proved so totally wrong.

Steph Catley laid it on a platter for Sam Kerr to head the ball back across goal to a waiting Polkinghorne. 

With the best celebration in the business, it simply had to be Polkinghorne to open the scoring and set the crowd on fire in celebration. 

Everybody loves a centre back goal.

We’ll be back at it on Tuesday night. I cannot wait to soak it all in once again.

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