Firsts are always exciting and this was no different. To come up against a country that is full of some of the best players in the world is something to embrace, always.
We knew the game card coming in, we have a lot of new faces and in the words of Heather Reid on Twitter “a tough game for rookies”.
Seven-nil is never a pretty scoreline and shows things didn’t go all right. But let’s dive into it, particularly the good stuff because it was there.
The starting XI was experienced in the face of an inexperienced squad.
The good news element of the line up was Larissa Crummer’s return. Once our hottest, young forward bagging goals for fun in City’s inaugural season, injury hit, a failed experiment at centre back in Newcastle then a horror injury to make a long awaited return and showing signs of her past-self this season back home in Queensland.
It had been a long time between caps, just under four years. What a special moment it was to see her lead the line up once again.
The big question was it a back three or four?
The pre-game panel with Thea Slatyer reminded me of all the good things she once did for the Matildas defence.
First half heroes
An absolute stunner is what separates the two teams. Aitana Bonmati’s strike was jaw-dropping and served as a sucker-punch minutes before half-time.
In the lead up, the Matildas proved rock solid in what looked like a training drill of soaking up pressure deep, having two really clear, flat, defined lines and, almost in contrast to the deep block, utilising a high line to draw offsides from Spain.
It worked to stop Spain from producing the types of goals they like to produce through tiki-taka. Instead it was a moment of individual brilliance, finding half a yard of free space and striking it so sweetly to leave Teagan Micah for dust.
Had the goal been produced in a different way, sure strike out at the system and say it wasn’t good enough, but we can certainly allow for wonder strikes to pick us apart.
Charlotte Grant put in an impressive case to replace the injured Ellie Carpenter, reading the play well to put in a few really key interceptions and challenges.
Clare Wheeler, Emily Van Egmond and Katrina Gorry made for a baller midfield full of nifty passes and came to a head in an opportunity where Gorry rocketed the crossbar. Having so many technical midfielders at once produced more attacking opportunities, with play recycled for a solid attacking spell.
Second half woes
Substitution central, including a change in goalkeeper, definitely caused some unsettling. A goal after three minutes further rocked nerves and opened the floodgates.
Jamila Rankin getting a debut was a taste of the future, as well as the introduction of Taylor Ray with 15 minute to go.
Again, the rookies were tested by fire.
Spain came out with an altered game plan, shoot when given an inch of space and press immediately after losing the ball. The outcome saw a lot of tired Matildas exposed.
Spain, no matter the squad, was a difficult prospect.
Put a team with Sam Kerr, Ellie Carpenter and Mary Fowler and we would’ve still been unlikely to have won. Alanna Kennedy would’ve been left footless, Kerr probably would’ve been isolated and playing with wing backs in the back five would’ve meant Caitlin Foord who isn’t the defender she once was.
While I would like to experiment again with the latter, these are all players with European experience in abundance. They know how the game is played and it would’ve served known lessons for the most part.
Being able to play the rookies will be beneficial in the long run. It’s a game we were always likely to lose. One we had a strong foothold in during the first half. The ideas and systems worked, the execution was off at times but that takes familiarity and practice.
Playing against Spain, learning a new system and different playing combinations was a difficult task. We didn’t pass with flying colours but we certainly weren’t knocked-out cold.
My highlight was Grant and we must accept her resume to cover for Carpenter over the next 12 months immediately.