The Matildas have fallen to a fourth-placed finish at the Women’s World Cup after a 2-0 defeat to Sweden in the third-place playoff at Suncorp Stadium.
Tony Gustavsson opted for an unchanged starting 11 from Wednesday night’s semi-final defeat to England, with Sam Kerr again preferred in the No.9 role.
Over-reliance on a core group of players by Gustavsson, who has been linked to the vacant United States job, seemed to hurt Australia as they looked sluggish in their second defeat in three days, completely outclassed on the ball and lacking defensive discipline.
The Swede eventually shuffled his deck in the second half but by that point the contest was all but over.
“It’s a difficult moment to find the right words,” Gustavsson told Optus Sport.
“We wanted to bring home a medal for this team, for the fans, for family and friends, for this country. It’s the second big tournament that we’ve played for a medal and we’re missing out.
“I’m too emotional now to reflect on the whole journey – I will do that later. Right now I’m a bit too hurt but what I once again want to say is to thank every single (person) that’s been with us on this journey and supported us, and I’m so sorry we couldn’t give everyone this bronze medal, but hopefully when we distance ourselves we can say we achieved something bigger.”
Despite missing out on a podium finish, fourth place is Australia’s best-ever result at a World Cup – men’s or women’s – and the Matildas have managed to capture the imagination of a whole nation like few teams have done before.
“Just disappointment, of course,” Sam Kerr said when asked to sum up her emotions.
“We wanted to win, wanted to have some hardware to take home but it wasn’t to be. It’s been a dream come true the way the fans have got behind us, the way the girls have carried themselves. I think we’ve proven to the world, but also within Australia that we are a footballing nation, and that’s down to the fans.
“We couldn’t get it done tonight but hopefully we’ve inspired people for many years to come.”
The first chance fell to the Swedes, with Mackenzie Arnold laying a strong hand on Stina Blackstenius’s strike and Australia managing to clear the danger.
Hayley Raso had Australia’s first chance, forcing a save from Zecira Musovic after she was found by Ellie Carpenter’s delivery.
Sweden seemed the likelier to break the deadlock and did just that after Clare Hunt brought down Blackstenius in the area, and after a VAR review revealed there was slight contact on the forward a penalty was given.
Fridolina Rolfo, who had hit the crossbar with a header just moments earlier, stepped up and made no mistake with the spot-kick despite quarter-final hero Arnold going the right way down to her left. It was no less than Sweden deserved as Gustavsson’s side struggled to settle into the contest.
As the opening stanza entered stoppage time Arnold made another quality save, this time denying Filippa Angeldal’s effort from a set-piece.
Kerr fired a rocket but Musovic was equal to it, the Matildas captain struggling to match her Accor Stadium output while being starved of quality service.
Caitlin Foord and Swedish captain Kosovare Asllani collided heavily on the edge of the Sweden penalty area as the first half drew to a close but both were able to continue.
Despite very little rotation of his side in the tournament Gustavsson again opted against any half-time changes, instead waiting until the 60th minute to bring on Emily van Egmond and Cortnee Vine, with Katrina Gorry and Hayley Raso given an early rest.
Before long, however, Sweden doubled their advantage through Asllani.
Receiving a perfect pass from Blackstenius, the Swedish captain unleashed a powerful strike into the bottom corner, giving Arnold no chance.
Concerns were raised when Kerr fell to the turf after an awkward collision but the Matildas skipper managed to play on.
Looking for a way back into the game, Gustavsson called upon Courtney Nevin and Alex Chidiac from the bench.
Despite the injection of fresh legs the majority of the Australian side had played a lot of minutes over the past month and they looked like it, with genuine chances still proving elusive.
It finished in a 2-0 defeat for Australia as the Matildas’ magnificent campaign came to a disappointing end.