Round two of the AFC Qualifiers in Nanjing China saw the Australians take the field for the first time in Group A at the Jiangning Sports Centre, comfortably accounting for Bahrain with a resounding 8 goal to nil victory to pocket the three points and place them second on the table behind China on goal differences.
With Australian Women’s football royalty looking on from the stands (Moya Dodds FIFA board appointee and Hesterine DeReus Matildas coach) the Mini Matildas were focused and ready to ‘get the job done’ against a lack lustre Bahrain.
An eerie mist was hanging over the 30,000 seat stadium as the Australians strode to the pitch with a real spring in their step having waited several days to finally take center stage and execute some of the learnings from coach Belinda Wilson and the recent camp in Toowoomba.
The starting lineup was designed to keep the Chinese contingent guessing and ‘mess with their heads’ as coach Belinda Wilson positioned Georgina Worth to defend the goal line ably supported by an experienced defensive line consisting of Chloe O’Brien, Vic Guzman, Maddy Stockdale and Beattie Goad to ensure Bahrain would not threaten. In the midfield Jess Waterhouse, Jess Pitts and Rhianna ‘Mini’ Pollicina combined to create many opportunities for the potent forward line of Emily Henderson, Tia Gavin and Afrikah McGladrigan to capitalise.
Nerves were evident across the pitch for both teams with the Australians eventually settling down first to concentrate on their possession style of football and steer the tempo of the game in their favour. Tia Gavin, Emily Henderson and Chloe O’Brien were being kept busy as a dominant Beattie Goad was continuously distributing the ball into the forward line but the Australians were unable to penetrate the net early. Eventually the breakthrough came in the 19th minute mark when Mini Pollicina weaved her way through traffic to convert from 25 meters with a solid right foot crack into the top right hand corner of the net past the outstretched hands for the Bahrain keeper. 1 nil to Australia with the crowd erupting.
Only minutes later, a corner was awarded to Australia where Jess Waterhouse hit a long cross into the box straight to the waiting feet of center back Maddy Stockdale who had crept up from defence to assist her forwards on the near post. Maddy converted the shot to register her maiden goal for Australia and propel the team to a two nil lead.
The team celebrations were indicative of the close knit bond that has emerged within this group over the last twelve months as every player has a vital role to play in achieving their mission to make history and secure a berth at the World Cup in Costa Rica.
Jess Pitts was going about her business in the midfield very professionally and it was only two minutes later at the 24 minute mark that Jess pushed forward and with a very calculated and skilful sidestep positioned herself for a powerful and deliberate shot on goal that sailed past the keeper to register goal number three for the Australians.
Next in line was Afrikah McGladrigan who at the 35 minute mark was pressing hard up the right wing and controlling the ball well, followed the play into the box and steered home a wonderful right foot volley into the net registering another goal for Australia putting the result beyond doubt.
With the score line displaying a 4 nil lead at half time, the Australians retreated to the rooms to no doubt discuss tactics, structure and formation as the result could well have been double that displayed on neon signs at the west end of the ground.
After resumption of play, the Bahrain girls were adamant they would try to stifle the possession play employed by Australia and were successful for the first twenty minutes with no addition to the score line. At least until Wilson had decided at the 62 minute mark she needed to make a tactical change that saw the injection of fresh legs through Sunny Franco, Isobel Dalton and Alexandra Chidiac yielding immediate impact.
Within two minutes of being on the pitch, Franco applied pressure to the Bahrain defensive line who coughed up a loose ball and she pounced side stepping past the keeper and registering the first of her incredible hat trick in under 20 minutes of play. Franco has been in dominant form of late and is no doubt on the radar of the Chinese coaches looking to shut down her scoring spree in the next encounter.
With a commanding lead in toe, the final stanza saw Maddy Stockdale distribute the ball from defense up the wing to Emily Henderson and a resultant cross to Alexandra Chidiac saw her put the ‘icing on the cake’ for Australia, completing an eight nil whitewash and setting up the game of the tournament against host nation China on Monday 30th September.
After the game, coach Belinda Wilson was asked about her thoughts on the win against Bahrain. “I was happy with the way the girls played tonight. The played some good football and tried to open them up in the first half but I thought we were a little deep when we were attacking. The midfield eventually sorted themselves out but overall very happy with the result and we got our three points that we needed and we are now looking forward to the next game.”
On her thoughts about the China encounter coming up, Wilson commented “The China game will be more of a tactical game than the game we played today. It was important for the girls to have time on the ball and experience the atmosphere of playing on a large stadium like this. There is no doubt that it will be a battle against China as they are a good team, very well-rehearsed and we just need to ensure we play our game and we play well and we finish our chances.”
Strategy, tactics and psychology are all significant factors affecting outcomes in elite sports across the many codes. Wilson will be looking to dig deep into her arsenal of tricks to plan around an upset win against the might of the host nation China.
There is no doubt this team of proud young Australian women have the skill, the will and more importantly the self-belief that China is not invincible. Stocky’s Scribbles covered the importance of a champion team and the power of self-belief in the recent article titled “The strength of the Wolf, is in the pack”. This is the trump card Wilson has in her kit – the positive attitude that against all adversity, nothing is impossible. She knows if the girls play with the free spirit we have seen them do on many occasions, we could be in for a major upset.
The pressure is on China – not Australia and Wilson is cognizant of this fact. Either way, we are set for an absolute ‘hum-dinger’ of a game on Monday.
Who said the dragon cannot be slayed!!
Stay tuned as we head into day three of the AFC Qualifiers in Nanjing. Stocky’s scribbles will again be pitch side along with the Australian cheer squad of families here in Nanjing to support their girls as they endeavor to rewrite the history books and qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Costa Rica.
Remember girls – Believe.
Never Say Die