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Matildas disaster was what we've come to expect from football

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Expert
9th June, 2019
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3650 Reads

Australia’s 2-1 defeat to Italy in the Women’s World Cup overnight was exactly what a football association that prioritises anything but football deserves.

There was one team that looked like they knew how to play football last night, and it wasn’t the Matildas.

Not the pretty, precise triangles, 4-3-3 national curriculum type of football that looks good on paper but gets found out the second a useful opponent shows up.

But the niggling, nagging, negative sort of football that infuriates neutrals but inevitably produces results.

And at some point Football Federation Australia needs to ask itself what sort of football nation it wants Australia to be.

Because apparently we can’t be both. Not on the basis of what we saw last night.

Australia’s night started badly when Barbara Bonansea opened the scoring for Italy after nine minutes only for the VAR to harshly rule the goal out for offside, and got progressively worse from there.

We should have known it was coming.

Performances have been scratchy for some time even before the Netherlands dished out a 3-0 friendly defeat in Eindhoven last week.

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But when Sam Kerr tucked away the rebound from her meekly-hit penalty, it looked like the gods of football were set to smile on the Matildas.

Why wouldn’t we have assumed that?

Australia’s defence might have looked decidedly shaky inside the first 20 minutes, but suddenly the Matildas were 1-0 up.

But as has so often been the case across a vast array of Australian national teams, what the Matildas failed to do thereafter was play smart tournament football.

And not for the first time, an obsession with playing out from the back has surely cost the Matildas a win on the biggest stage of all.

Sam Kerr

(Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)

It hardly seems fair to single out one individual when virtually the whole team played poorly, but Clare Polkinghorne won’t want to watch that game back in a hurry.

The decision to play out from defence seemed harmless enough until Polkinghorne miscontrolled Alanna Kennedy’s routine pass.

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Even then, the difference in attitude between the two teams was on full display, as Bonansea simply ignored an unmarked Ilaria Mauro in the middle of the park in favour of taking the ball on herself to score.

And the equaliser was no less than the Italians deserved, having chipped away all afternoon at the nervy Aussie defence and been denied by a couple of close offside calls.

The Matildas had their chances too but unlike the clinical Bonansea, the bounce of the ball just never seemed to go their way.

Even into stoppage time it looked like the Matildas might pull a victory out of the fire, only to concede the sort of disastrous winner that is fast becoming an Aussie trademark.

And the question must surely be asked of whether dismissing a coach less than six months out from a World Cup and replacing him with a coach entirely new to the squad was a smart decision.

However, bad optics have become Football Federation Australia’s speciality.

How else do we explain the apparent presence in France of FFA board member Heather Reid, who for legal reasons was forced to give an “unreserved apology” to Stajcic barely a week out from the tournament?

Reid’s trip to the World Cup – presumably at the game’s expense – is an affront to anyone who has ever bought a ticket to a match, paid registration fees or decked themselves out in official merchandise.

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Yet when it comes to making the right decision, the FFA gets it wrong every single time.

A stoppage-time defeat to a crafty Italy wouldn’t feel like such a disaster if only it didn’t come on the back of the game shooting itself in the foot every step of the way.

But that’s the kind of football nation Australia is fast becoming.

When it comes to national traits, we’re the Basil Fawlty of the world game.