The Matildas have advanced to the Women’s World Cup quarter-finals after a 2-0 victory over Denmark in front of 75,784 spectators at Stadium Australia.
Well-taken goals from Caitlin Foord and Hayley Raso saw Australia through to the final eight, equalling their best-ever World Cup result.
They will have the chance to go one better against either France or Morocco at Suncorp Stadium on Saturday evening for a place in the semi-finals as the Matildas march on towards the ultimate prize.
Sam Kerr, perhaps unsurprisingly, was not named in the starting 11 as the calf injury the star forward sustained the day before the Matildas’ opening match continues to trouble her, but managed ten minutes off the bench.
“The players managed to play the game in front of us,” an emotional Gustavsson told Optus Sport post-game.
“We were under a lot of pressure in that first half. They came out with a new shape, 4-4-2, pressed us high, (we) got dispossessed a couple of times…we didn’t get rattled. The team is very mature in playing tournament football and find a way to win.
“We saw in the last game the left side was very impressive. (Foord) looked sharp in training so we said, let’s make sure we activate the left side as much as possible today.
“We wanted to start the attack on the right side and then play a diagonal to activate one-on-ones and two-on-ones.”
On Sam Kerr’s recovery, he added: “Relief is not the right word, but I’m very happy for her and the team. The other thing I have to say, I brought my team together here afterwards, my sports medicine and technical team.
“What they’ve done over the last month and the way they’ve stayed focused, their communication skills, individual plans for each player – hats off and credit to them. They are amazing.”
Foord was ecstatic.
“It was awesome,” she said.
“I’m so proud of everyone tonight. We just ran our arse off and gave it everything, and we knew if we defended well chances would come and we’d score, so that’s what we did tonight.
“I didn’t really think too much (about her goal). I was just happy to get it on target and see it go in.
“Maybe not the Nigeria game but every other game’s been awesome, and we want to keep doing it, we want to experience it more and more and keep our dream alive. The crowd’s massive. They’ve been our 12th man all tournament, and they’re going to continue to be that. It helps you push through when it gets tough.”
Gustavsson made no changes to the side that blew Canada away on Thursday. With Kerr still not fit to start, Emily van Egmond and Mary Fowler were deployed as strikers in the old-school 4-4-2 set-up.
There was an early scare for the Matildas as Rikke Madsen stretched at a dangerous ball across Mackenzie Arnold’s goal but couldn’t get her boot on it.
Australia had so far managed to neutralise the threat of captain Pernille Harder, who partnered Amalie Vangsgaard up top for the Danes, though she did product a mazy run which ended in a tame effort that Arnold was glad to see roll straight to her.
But despite the Danes’ dominance, it was the Matildas who would open the scoring through Foord.
Released down the left by Fowler’s perfectly weighted through-ball, Foord cooly took one touch on her right then slotted a classy left-foot strike through Lene Christensen’s legs.
The nervy start from Gustavsson’s side had been weathered and Australia now had a lead to play with, forcing Denmark to open up.
The Matildas seemed happy to sit back and absorb some pressure. The directive from the bench was clearly to play more conservatively with the ball, and Australia seemed to favour their left side as Raso was struggling to make an impact after her double-scoring heroics in Melbourne, and Ellie Carpenter looked shaky in possession at times.
Gradually the Matildas took control and soon made their advantage count with Raso notching her third goal of the tournament.
Controlling a pass from Kyra Cooney-Cross in the area, Fowler dinked a delightful pass to van Egmond, turning and laying off to Raso who made no mistake from close range.
Gustavsson would then call upon two substitutes, with a huge roar from the Stadium Australia gallery signalling the arrival of Kerr for her first minutes of the tournament in place of goalscorer Raso.
Kerr’s every touch was cheered to the rafters. Though she did send her first touch out for a throw and looked to grimace as she landed awkwardly in the penalty box – 75,000 hearts in mouths – the Matildas superstar will surely be better for the run.
The biggest cheer was reserved for when the full-time whistle rang out. A date with the winner of France versus Morocco looms in Brisbane on Saturday.