Matildas do the double over Brazil in Newcastle

Evan Morgan Grahame Columnist

By , Evan Morgan Grahame is a Roar Expert

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    When Brazil scored, the match just one minute old, it was reward for a snorting start.

    Marta roared and pumped both arms in celebration, having just scampered away and crossed for Fabiana to tap home; her performance in the 2-1 loss to the Matildas last week fell well short of her own lofty standards.

    It seemed as though Brazil, arranged here in a much more defensively stolid 4-3-3 formation, were keen to present a spikier posture than the team that was buffeted so rigorously by Australia had in the last match. 

    The hosts, a little rattled by the early goal, and adjusting to a line-up that underwent more than a couple of personnel changes, composed themselves. This team has had experience conceding first to Brazil before; they did so in a match that ended up finishing as a 6-1 Matildas win in the Tournament of Nations. Emily van Egmond, playing slightly further up-field, applied a becalming caress to the ball, as Australia’s passing began to roll through its rhythms.

    Sam Kerr – still leading the line but flanked in this match by Hayley Raso and Chloe Logarzo – sent searing panic through the Brazil defence, tracing oblique runs in behind, sternly testing the eyesight of the sideline official. Raso’s touch was soft and neat under pressure, Katrina Gorry was nipping in, forcing turnovers.

    Claire Polkinghorne, the veteran centre back, was battling hard, arriving with venom into tackles. 

    It took until the 23rd minute for Brazil to fashion another clear chance, with Lydia Williams saving well one-on-one against Marta. Australia had created a number of their own by that time, with Kerr guilty of a few lax offsides.

    Having strolled out in a top-heavy 4-2-4 formation in the first game, it was clear Brazil had found that match a chastening experience, and the counter-attacking system they reverted to in this match was tangible evidence of the respect Australia’s strength commands.

    Brazil were doing much better here, defending as a team, and piercing through the Australian lines with sudden, direct dribbling. Marta and Andressinha were finding joy on the left flank, combining together, passing triangles around the yellow shirts. 

    This felt like a real rivalry; the players were snapping at each other, and competing with full bodily force in every 50-50 skirmish. Steph Catley was seen hustling at full speed, side-by-side with Fabiana, and swooping in a picture perfect slide tackle, all timing and grit. Raso wasted an excellent chance, collecting the ball in the box, free to turn, only to slice wide. 

    Sam Kerr, feeling the contest rising to a peak, decided to step into the light. A free kick, won on the right wing, was whipped in by van Egmond, and Kerr met it in the middle of the penalty area. Her standing header, with every neck fibre and trapezius muscle flexed, applied enough power to loop the ball over Brazilian keeper Dani Neuhaus. 1-1, with 40 minutes gone, and Australia’s early lapse was erased.

    Brazil’s marking seemed to evaporate as the free kick was in flight, with Kerr lurking. Her finishing is unrivalled in women’s football at the moment. 

    Brazil finished the first half a little frazzled; their defensive shape was warping, as some players gambled on unlikely interceptions up-field, and others wilted under Australian pressure.

    Gorry smashed a shot against the post just before the break, after a robust manoeuvre down the right involving Raso, van Egmond and Carpenter. Australia, having conceded so early, deserved to enter break in front. 

    As it happened, Australia took the lead two minutes into the second half. Alanna Kennedy was allowed to stride out of defence, and pass straight through Brazil’s midfield line. Van Egmond ushered the ball through to Kerr, who slipped a reverse through-ball in for Gorry.

    It was a sublime moment, a pass of unlikely invention and otherworldly execution, and as Gorry scuffed her shot badly, there was a brief, torturous second where it looked as though it might be wasted. But no, Caitlyn Foord, a halftime substitute, was following up, and Gorry’s scuff turned into a perfect lay-off. Foord slotted home the goal that made it 2-1. 

    Brazil were leaving gaping holes between the lines. Van Egmond was seen collecting a cross just outside the box, totally unmarked. She couldn’t corral the bouncing ball in time to shoot. Marta tried to respond with a sudden burst down the left wing, passing to Andressinha, whose cross was collected on the stretch by Williams.

    Foord was shredding the left side of the Brazil defence, fresh legs running riot. All urgency had abandoned the South Americans when out of possession. At times Australia were guilty of over-playing things, passing one too many times having strung a dozen together already. 

    Logarzo shot straight at Dani Neuhaus, with plenty of time to pick a spot. Kerr had the ball in the net, but she’d received the pass and shot from an offside position. Brazil were fading badly.

    Then Chloe Logarzo and Emily van Egmond combined, with a neat one-two, on the left wing. Logarzo speared in a cross, curling away from Dani Neuhaus, toward, yes, you guessed it, Sam Kerr. Kerr stole in ahead of a ponderous Andressinha, toe-poking in Australia’s third goal. She wheeled away, and gave the baying crowd the back-flip celebration they’d been craving.

    Although it was Kerr and Logarzo who made the decisive motions, typically it was van Egmond at the heart of the move; she is such an impressive, composed midfielder, performing a vital, technical role, keeping every other cog in the Matildas machine running smoothly. 

    Matildas player Emily van Egmond

    Reigning Dolan medallist Emily van Egmond.

    Not long after her second goal, Kerr was seen haring back to cover defensively. Australia’s superior conditioning was shining through; the Brazilians were being beaten not just by the feet of the Matildas, but by their lungs as well. As if to rub it in, Lisa De Vanna was brought on to add to Brazil’s suffering.

    Tackles were getting ragged, with Australians and Brazilians sent sprawling in heaps to the turf. Marta barged into Foord in an apparent attempt to retrieve the ball after a whistle, which earned her a booking. From the free kick she was so adamant to take quickly, Marta was sent dashing into the box, engaged shoulder-to-shoulder with Carpenter.

    A foul was detected, and a penalty was given. It was contentious at best. Marta converted it, and it was 3-2 with five minutes to go. A grandstand finish for the 16,000-strong crowd. 

    Brazil lifted. Australia had to resist. Time ticked away. Kerr and Carpenter managed to get the ball into the corner and kept it there, winning throw-ins for a good two minutes. It proved an effective strategy, and when the final whistle sounded, the third straight win over Brazil – this one a raucous comeback – was confirmed. The Matildas are now undefeated in eight games.

    These two ties against Brazil stood as twin opportunities for the Matildas to impress the nation, raising their own profiles as well as that of women’s football. They took the opportunities with gusto, and will only continue onward and upward.

    Evan Morgan Grahame
    Evan Morgan Grahame

    Evan Morgan Grahame is a Melbourne-based journalist. Gleaning what he could from his brief career as a painter, the canvas of the football pitch is now his subject of contemplation, with the beautiful game sketching new, intriguing compositions every week. He has been one of The Roar's Expert columnists since 2016. Follow him on Twitter @Evan_M_G.