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The Matildas are making football fun again

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20th June, 2019
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The Matildas’ run to the Round of 16 has brought back the feel-good factor to Australian football and restored a sense of pride in our national teams.

Congratulations to Sam Kerr for becoming the first ever Australian to score a hat-trick at a World Cup.

Her first two goals in the 4-1 win over Jamaica were textbook headers and although the other two goals were both gifts, she still put herself in a position to score them.

As impressive as her four-goal haul was, the question now is whether she can lead the Matildas to a knock-out stage win over Norway and into the quarter-finals.

As my colleague and esteemed editor of The Roar Dan Jeffrey pointed out on The Game Of Codes podcast during the week, Kerr’s fourth goal was actually crucial in that it saw the Matildas finish second in the group on goal difference.

Sam Kerr celebrates scoring a goal.

Sam Kerr scores a goal. (Photo by Craig Mercer/MB Media/Getty Images)

A clash with Norway is the reward and if the Matildas are thankful for the presence of Kerr, many Norwegians are still somewhat perplexed by the absence of Ada Hegerberg.

The Lyon striker won the inaugural Ballon d’Or Feminin last year as the best player in women’s football but she hasn’t played for her national team since 2017, citing a lack of equality in the women’s game.

She’s been outspoken about the “lack of respect” she feels women’s football receives – particularly in her native Norway – although her stance invoked a stinging rebuke from Real Madrid wunderkind Martin Odegaard in the build-up to the tournament.

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“Couldn’t you find anything better to do just before the World Cup begins?” Odegaard asked Hegerberg on Instagram in the wake of the publication of a recent interview outlining her position.

“Being able to represent your country at the World Cup is one of the biggest honours in football.

“Your team-mates deserve better,” the 20-year-old midfielder added.

Who said only Australia does disharmony?

But the Norwegians have done alright without Hegerberg, even if they rode their luck during the group stage.

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They converted a couple of deserved penalties in their 2-1 win over South Korea but were fortunate not to concede an equaliser at the death, while two more of the goals they scored in the group stage were actually own goals.

They look just as vulnerable at the back as the Matildas do, so the outcome in Nice may well come down to whichever team manages to tighten up defensively.

This is where we’ll find out if interim coach Ante Milicic is worth his salt.

There’s no doubt he’s been hampered by some injury concerns and it will be interesting to see whether he rushes back experienced central defender Clare Polkinghorne in Nice.

Neither Elise Kellond-Knight nor Tameka Yallop started against Jamaica either, so there may well be a shuffling of the decks at the Stade de Nice on the picturesque French Riviera.

And the Aussies can ill-afford to switch off for an extended period as they did against the Jamaicans after half-time in Grenoble.

The Matildas were on the back foot for long periods in all three group-stage games and better teams will punish any lapses in defence from here on in.

The Matildas' Ellie Carpenter

Australia’s Ellie Carpenter. (AP Photo/Claude Paris)

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It shouldn’t be forgotten that Norway was an early powerhouse in women’s football, winning the 1995 Women’s World Cup in Sweden and claiming gold at the 2000 Olympic Games in Sydney.

They’re no strangers to big-time tournament football.

But if there’s one thing Australian football has largely lacked in recent years – on the pitch, at least – it’s a narrative for us to all hang our collective hat on.

The Matildas have reminded us that football is meant to be enjoyable.

They’ve helped get our hopes up and have us dreaming of winning a World Cup.

They’ll have to beat Norway first.

But in the form Sam Kerr is in, anything is possible on Sunday morning.

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