North Korea has been formally suspended from the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics by the IOC as punishment for refusing to send a team to the Tokyo Games citing the COVID-19 pandemic.
Where do you start with an insane game of ebb and flow football that finishes 4-3 after extra time with Australia beating Great Britain to go through to the Olympic Games semifinal? At the end.
“It was a team performance,” said Australian captain Sam Kerr, scorer of two goals, who was kept quiet for long spells but lethal when her moments arrived.
“I can’t explain how proud I am to be part of this team and lead this team out. Every day they surprise me. We’ve been through so much as a team.
“I haven’t seen some of these girls for nearly two years and we come out and beat teams who have been together for so long. We’ve got kids out there.”
Kids, veterans, coach – they were all immense. The Matildas have long been one of Australia’s favourite sports teams and this will further entrench that admiration. They fight hard and fair and always to the end.
WE'VE JUST MADE HISTORY! ????????
— Matildas (@TheMatildas) July 30, 2021
Regardless of how much further they go here, and Monday night’s semifinal against Sweden, who beat them in the group, will be tough, they will head into the 2023 World Cup on home soil with passionate body of support behind them.
Manager Tony Gustavsson copped pelters in some quarters after the Matildas’ 0-0 bore draw with the United States, but that is looking like a tactical masterstoke in hindsight. He ensured safe passage, no significant injuries or suspensions.
Compare the Swede’s game management to that of Olyroos manager Graham Arnold, who promised to shock the world and then blew a first up win over Argentina to be eliminated after the pool games.
Gustavsson also made a big call in bringing in 23-year-old goalkeeper Teagan Micah for her debut last month in a friendly against Sweden. He stuck with her through a couple of big defeats, while Arsenal’s Lydia Williams rode the bench, and Micah delivered one of the all time great performances between the sticks on Friday.
Spectacular… Courageous, splendid, flex Goddess… Wonderful, magnificent player ????????
— tireless Koko… (@Blokab1) July 30, 2021
She was on the bench for Melbourne Victory two seasons ago, having to leave to find football overseas. But she produced a penalty save in extra time at 2-2, and made at least two other incredible stops to keep Australia on level terms.
Five years ago Alanna Kennedy had the decisive penalty saved in the quarterfinal shootout loss to Brazil in Rio. She headed in Australia’s opening goal on Friday and her celebration was primal in intensity. It screamed personal redemption.
Then there’s Mary Fowler, the 18 year old who came on late in the game and scored the third moments after Micah’s save. The deflected shot had plenty of fortune about it, but before that she had killed a high ball dead on the turn to set up the chance.
— 7Olympics (@7olympics) July 30, 2021
Kerr was drifting in and out of the contest but when they needed her most the captain stood up. First it was two minutes from the end of regulation time after the Brits had turned around a one goal deficit to lead 2-1 and be moments away from eliminating the Aussies.
Then the ball fell to Kerr in the box. She shaped to volley a high bouncing ball. It would have been a difficult stike of low percentage. Instead she took a breath and let it settle at her feet. England’s defence fatally stood off and let the Chelsea striker drive home sweetly.
SAM. KERR. GOES. BANG. ????????????
— 7Olympics (@7olympics) July 30, 2021
Kerr was there again to head in Australia’s fourth – it meant she equalled Lisa De Vanna’s scoring record of 47 for the Matildas and was a goal they needed as Britain’s irrepressible Ellen White completed a hat-trick to give Australia a desperate last seven minutes of scrambling defence.
Kerr said she felt she watched it unfold like the rest of Australia on their couches, stuck up on halfway willing the defenders to keep White and the white shirts at bay. Sam, by that time we weren’t still sitting on the couch, although some of us were hiding behind it.
British fans might wonder why White didn’t take the extra time penalty that would have swung the game their way.
Ellie Carpenter was harshly penalised for pushing over an opponent in the box, and it’s hard to imagine how she felt watching Manchester City’s Caroline Weir step up.
But if she’d looked closely enough she would have seen the fear in the Briton’s eyes. The attempt was weak and too close to Micah’s leap.
Carpenter’s relief and joy was obvious afterwards.
— Ellie Carpenter (@CarpenterEllie) July 30, 2021
And back home Australians shared the sentiment.
Imagine something like this in two years time on home soil.
— Adam Peacock (@adampeacock3) July 30, 2021
The Matildas. Our Matildas.
So many heroes. Kerr. Catley. Kennedy. Micah. Fowler. And all the rest.
We’ve got a semi-final to come.
And a World Cup in 2023.
— Sebastian Hassett (@sebth) July 30, 2021
From start to finish Kerr and her teammates know what this win means to fans in Australia.
“We feel the love from home,” Kerr said. “We’re doing everything to make you guys proud. I hope you guys felt that today and we feel your love from afar.”
Now they have to go again, and a win will guarantee they go into their home World Cup in 2023 with a medal as well as the nation’s love.
Kerr is the perfect leader for this team and they followed her to the end.
“The players pushed through in a way I’ve very seldom seen. They dug deep tonight,” said Gustavsson.
“The way Sam led the team tonight, even though she is in pain, it was one of those that she pushed through. The way she leads this group in the locker room, back in the hotel, in the bus. They’re huge reasons why we’re winning this game.
“I think we’ve shown throughout this tournament that we believe in ourselves and we stay loyal to who we are whoever we play.”.