The Republic of Ireland versus Australia match was always going to be a cracker. Despite the fact that it was a friendly, both teams were entering the game with something to prove. The Irish ultimately got the upper hand winning the match 3-2.
It was a historic game. First because the two nation’s women’s sides had never met before. Second because it was to be captain Sam Kerr’s 100th cap.
Ireland have for long been a team that have underperformed. Currently ranked 33rd in the world behind Vietnam, they are a side that have been prone to dropping big points at the last minute and whose players have not lived up to the quality within their ranks.
However, recent investment into the team including the announcement that like the Matildas the Irish women will now get pay parity with the men, as well as the large number of their players now with fully-professional clubs, means they are arguably ranked lower than their potential.
The Matildas for their part entered the game hot off their fourth place Olympic finish. Heading into their home World Cup they arguably want to show that their most recent success was not a fluke, but a display of things to come.
Prior to the game manager Tony Gustavsson called up a large squad into the Matildas camp. In total twenty-seven players were evaluated. Eighteen of those were Olympians, six were uncapped Australians and three were previously capped players who missed out on Tokyo.
The infusion of youth mixed with the retention of most players from the previous campaign indicated that while Gustavsson was in part going to stay the course, he was also building for the future.
His starting line-up for the match had ten players from Tokyo with Courtney Nevin, whose first cap came in June against Denmark, being the only non Olympian. It was her first start for Australia. The other surprising change was the start in goal for Mackenzie Arnold.
Gustavsson has shook up the goalie selection this year. After two previous starts in 2021 by Arnold, she was originally only an alternate in the Olympic squad, later being added as a full member with the expanded roster rules.
However, off good club form with West Ham United Arnold returned into the Australian net for the beginning of the match.
The Republic of Ireland for their part also had a mixture of new blood and veteran talent.
TEAM NEWS | 🇮🇪 v 🇦🇺#IRLAUS kicks off at 19:00— FAIreland âš½ï¸🇮🇪 (@FAIreland) September 21, 2021
🟢 Debut for @LucyQuinn7
🟢 Cap No 95 for @Niamh_Fahey1
🟢 First game for @SavannaMc3 since 2016
🟢 Uncapped @aoibheannclancy makes bench#COYGIG | #WeAreOne pic.twitter.com/QIZxh3TmmU
Ireland were first on the attack. In the second minute of play a shot by Amber Barrett required an intervention by Mackenzie Arnold. The flight of the ball before Arnold’s stop did seem to hit Chloe Logarzo’s hand in the penalty area, however it was not called by the referee.
The Irish did not let up and scored a minute later. Lucy Quinn’s free kick initially hit the near post. However, it’s deflection into the penalty area then bounced off Arnold into the net. It was attributed as an own goal to Arnold.
After the slow start, Australia entered the game. Much cleaner passing after gaining control of the ball lead to the first chance with a Kerr header in the twelfth minute. Two minutes later it was Mary Fowler who found the equalizer.
A cross into the penalty area by Nevin found Emily Gielnik. She got a touch and deflected it. Fowler pounced on the ball and struck a powerful shot that hit Irish keeper Courtney Brosnan prior to entering the goal. It was Fowler’s third goal for Australia.
Ireland nearly had a second goal five minutes later through an Australian mistake. Áine O’Gorman sent a cross into the Irish box. Alanna Kennedy defended it by trying to head it wide. However, she nearly scored an own goal but the ball hit the post.
The Irish second goal came in the 24th minute from former Western Sydney Wanderers player Denise O'Sullivan. A bad clearance off a corner found the midfielder. Her shot deflected off an Australian player before going in the back of the net.
The Matildas equalized just before the half. Fowler picked up the ball just outside the Irish penalty area. Her strike bounced off an Irish defender and floated over the keeper into the net. Fowler claimed the goal for the brace. Both teams entered halftime with the scoreline at 2-2.
Gustavsson made two changes after the half. Lydia Williams came on for Arnold while Emma Checker replaced Kennedy.
The Irish scored their third of the night in the 49th minute. Louise Quinn was able to get on the end of a corner and head it in to put the home team ahead.
The Matildas coach then made a series of changes, handing three debuts to players. Clare Wheeler came on in the 53rd minute for Chloe Logarzo, getting cap #213, while Charlie Grant and Angela Beard replaced Tameka Yallop and Courtney Nevin and received caps #214 and #215 respectively.
The Australians had several chances at goal after the infusion of this young blood. Overall though it was a frustrating night for the Matildas exemplified by the yellow card picked up by Kerr for petulance in the 75th minute after she kicking the ball away. The game ended 3-2.
This was Australia's match to loose. It was dominated by the Matildas who had 79% of possession and twice as may shots on goal to the Irish. The difference in Tallagh was that the Irish were more clinical with their chances.
Australia for their part showed some of their propensity for making errors in defence, which has appeared in previous friendlies this year. Their pace in defence, which has also been previously questioned, could continue to be a problem especially when Carpenter is missing.
More focus on set piece defending should also be looked at by the Matildas. All three of Ireland's goals were from set pieces, two from corners and one from a free-kick. While deflections were partially to blame for two of them, arguably better marking of players running in and around the box could have stopped the second and third Irish goals.
On the offence Ireland's Louise Quinn did well to keep centurion Kerr in check, limiting her impact in the game. Australia showed that they could be offensive and creative, but overall it was not a good Matildas performance, especially against an Irish team under pressure to win after seven consecutive defeats.
Coach Gustavsson will go away with much to think about as he continues to build to next year's AFC Women's Asian Cup and the ultimate crown, the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup.