The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: Matildas Olympic qualifiers

by Ben Somerford on Feb 14, 2020

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As expected, the Matildas reached the final playoffs for a spot to join their male counterparts at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics but there was plenty to ponder along the way.

Australia eased past Chinese Taipei and Thailand but came up against a resolute and determined Chinese side in the final match, pushed all the way before Emily van Egmond’s 93rd minute equalizer.

That goal was critical, sealing top spot in the group for the Matildas and a playoff date with 32nd ranked Vietnam, as opposed to 20th ranked South Korea.

It was an unconvincing display but Ante Milicic’s side got the job done… just.

Next step is Vietnam in Newcastle next month, but before then GGArmy’s Ben Somerford reflects on the tournament as a whole.

The Good
Van Egmond was the lead act with a starring display throughout the three matches, which included a hat-trick against Thailand and the last-gasp equalizer against the Steel Roses.

It’s easy to overlook the opening two games, but van Egmond’s first goal broke the deadlock against the Thais and was important to opening the floodgates. The midfielder also set up plenty against the Taiwanese. She seemed buoyed by her move back into her preferred position.

The other big positive was the girls got the job done. Topping the group was the mission and it got achieved, even with a few hairy moments against China late, where everyone had their hands on the back of their heads entering injury time. International football isn’t easy.

The Bad
Australia conceded 14 goals in six matches last year, from the 5-3 loss to US in April up until their World Cup exit against Norway, so it was refreshing to see the side keep two clean sheets against Chinese Taipei and Thailand. Following on from November’s 1-0 friendly win over Chile that made it 270 minutes without conceding a goal.

But the side still has shaky moments in defence and Clare Polkinghorne’s performances this tournament didn’t instill confidence. Personally I’m always nervous when Alanna Kennedy has the ball too and she caused a few heart palpatations against the Chinese.

Indeed, it was Kennedy’s missed header which led to the opportunity for China’s goal from Tang Jiali on a switch counter, where substitute Tameka Yallop, who should’ve been fresh, too easily allowed her opponent to break into space and score. That defensive sloppiness against good sides remains a concern.

The Ugly
Sam Kerr said China “parked the bus” and given the Matildas had 70% possession it’s hard to disagree. The Steel Roses were intelligent in their tactics, not allowing Australia any time on the ball in midfield, causing turnover after turnover. The Matildas were unable to settle and it wasn’t until China had scored and reverted to a deeper defensive line that Australia found the opportunity to put pressure on.

Milicic said “we need to learn from this” which couldn’t be truer. The Matildas have an Achilles heel which every upcoming opponent will be aware of. They cannot pass through a compact and organized opposition.

Make no mistake, Vietnam will employ these tactics when they meet next month, so Australia will need to heed the lessons quickly. Given the Matildas’ status there is an expectation around this side, but the players must know it won’t come easy and ugly wins are okay.