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In front of a healthy crowd in Penrith, on a fine day on a fine pitch, the Matildas were the victims of a classic smash-and-grab.
Chile were outplayed for vast stretches of this match, with the Australians taking turns shooting and missing. Australia had 17 shots, and Sam Kerr alone took seven of them, as many as Chile managed as a team; only one of Kerr’s was on target.
The win may have consequences for Australia’s FIFA rankings, which will, in turn, have an effect where Australia is drawn in the World Cup. Chile were jubilant after the final whistle, but they would be unwise to assume the Australians will be as profligate next week in the friendly rematch.
The Matildas began by knocking the ball around, side to side, taking full advantage of the billiard table surface. A winding passing sequence from front to back saw Emily van Egmond orchestrate the route, but it was around Tamika Butt that the move pivoted from promising to deadly. A turn, inside her marker, freed Butt and she played in Caitlyn Foord, dashing across the box.
Foord was brought down from behind, a stonewall penalty, and van Egmond converted it. 1-0 to Australia, inside ten minutes.
The move had been allowed to grow by Chile’s lax second-level of pressing; it’s all well and good for the forwards to step up and harass the Australian defenders, but as soon as a Matilda steps between the line of defence and midfield, no Chilean went with her.
It isn’t wise to offer such an easily-accessed release valve, in fact, it defeats the purpose of the press entirely.
Australia were sending players forward, scattering the Chile defensive block, a porous assembly such as it was. Kerr warmed the palms of Christiane Endler, smacking a shot right at her from close range.
There was an alarming lack of structure to Chile’s defensive effort; Matildas would find themselves open and free to turn all across the pitch because Chile were doubling up needlessly on the woman in possession, or being flummoxed and failing to cover basic one-twos.
Lisa de Vanna was motoring past would-be tacklers, Chileans sent tumbling in the wake of her aggressive, purposeful running. Emily van Egmond was acting as a calm, measured midfield conductor, planting the seeds for attack with simple passes and logical movement.
Then a fairly harrowing error occurred. A short-legged backpass from Laura Alleway forced Lydia Williams to come charging out of her box to contest; the ball was sent spinning back toward an open goal, and Clare Polkinghorn’s rushed clearance was hooked unwisely back into the centre of the park.
With Williams still well out of position, Francisca Lara simply lifted a shot looping into the open goal. 1-1, and the home team lost their grip a little on a game that had been completely under their control.
Australia took control of things again with a series of threatening corners; with the exception of Endler, this Chile team has a lack of height, and Polkinghorn, van Egmond, and the athletic leaper Sam Kerr were all eyeing their markers at set pieces like a pride of lionesses, converging at an African dusk, sights set on a slightly sickly herd of antelope.
The Chilean No.10 Yanara Aedo – placed on the left of the Chile attacking unit – was at the heart of her team’s best moves, and as a result – aside from a number of bullocking Foord runs – the bulk of the action, in both directions, was occurring down the Australian right wing;
Ellie Carpenter, still just 18 and a dynamo fullback, and De Vanna were prospering down that flank too. Foord and De Vanna swapped flanks around the half hour mark, Alen Stajic mixing things up, changing the point of approach against an opponent that was retreating into a defensive stance.
Endler needed every inch of her imposing frame to tip over a pearl of shot from van Egmond, hit from a mile out. Van Egmond then set up Kerr to shoot freely, but she blazed over. As half-time approached, Australia had made 21 inroads into the Chilean box, with Chile only managing two such passes into Australia’s penalty area; such was the lopsided nature of the contest, if not the score.
Chile took the lead five minutes into the second half, another fortunate event. A free kick, won out on the right wing, was lifted into the box and Williams flew out to meet it in the air – needlessly, because it was an Australian head that beat her to the ball. Carla Guerrero found the ball dropping onto the shin, and shin it she did, up over the maw of players on the box, and inside the far post.
It was a first-time shot one wouldn’t be able to repeat more than a few time out of a hundred attempts. 2-1 Chile, and Australia had time to stew on this, as María José Urrutia – injured in the free kick skirmish – was substituted off. Chile had taken two shots in the game at this point and had scored two goals.
There was a growing sense of desperation in the Matildas, whose forays forward were now tinged with bedraggled indecision. Head-down dribbles in ignorance of passing options became common. Chile were settling into a comfortable groove, working on the counter, sitting deep.
Alleway and De Vanna came off and Stajic brought on Alanna Kennedy and Katrina Gorry.
Chloe Logarzo wasted at least five good crossing opportunities; it was hot, and legs were heavy, but wide open crossing opportunities should not be under or over-hit five times out of five.
A goalmouth scramble ending in a repelled Kerr shot was quickly converted into a Chilean counter. Players were flying into tackles, and limping out of them with cramp.
Emily Gielnik, a substitute, injected some late energy into the Australians’ quest for an equaliser, charging down the right wing multiple times, but failing to find a teammate with her crosses. Kerr was somehow still able to run past players, and a devastating dash – a really quite astonishing act, more superhuman than human – set up Gorry, but the substitute fluffed what should have been the leveller.
Then Chile went right down the other end and put the game away. A lightning break led to a one-on-one between Yessenia Huenteo and Williams. Huenteo won, sliding in Chile’s third.
Kerr hit the post. Van Egmond hit another sweet shot that Endler dived to stop. Kerr won a penalty with a few seconds left, dragged down in the box. Van Egmond converted it. The game ended with Chile 3-2 winners, and the Matildas wandered off the Penrith pitch, wondering exactly how all this had happened.