The Matildas kicked off their 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup campaign with a frustrating goalless draw against South Korea.
Australian fans were quietly confident when the starting XI was announced with the return of previously injured players Steph Catley and Hayley Raso to start while Kyah Simon and Emily Gielnik made their way onto the bench, the squad was looking fit and ready for action.
A battle of who could find the back of the net first was expected with the likes of South Korea’s top goal scorers Ji So-Yun, Lee Guem-Min, Cho So-Hyun and Yoo Young in the mix, it seemed as though Lydia Williams would be in for some hard work.
That was not the case and a different game was played, so what did we learn from the Matildas first clash of the Asian Cup?
1. HOW DO YOU PLAY A TEAM THAT DOESN'T WANT TO WIN?
A tactical defensive game plan by South Korea was seen in the first minutes of the game with commentators and players both showing frustration at South Korea’s attempts at time wasting.
They showed their hand early and confirmed they were there to park the bus, set up shop and hope for a draw.
By the end of the first half, the Matilda’s had seven shots on target to South Korea’s zero.
Photo: Rachel Bach
It was clear that an attack on Australia’s net was not a priority for the South Korean side, and the main goal was to run down the clock and lock Australia out.
Sam Kerr was swarmed by two to three players at every opportunity, with Captain Cho So-Hyun leading the charge to contain her.
For 80 minutes of the game, we saw anywhere from eight to ten South Korean players behind the ball against the Matildas, and none pushing forward to attempt to score.
2. PLAN B
Photo: Rachel Bach
It was clear by the effectiveness of South Korea’s tactics, that Australia was prepared for a battle, not a stalemate and the opening round of the Asian Cup has served as a great opportunity for the Matildas to come up with a “Plan B” when facing these kinds of opponents.
The inclusion of more combinations and speed in the front third to create holes in the armour of a heavily defensive team like South Korea will help create space for the Matildas to move the ball through the defensive wall.
Australia is learning that being ranked number six in the world, they will have a target on their backs and teams will do whatever it takes to get a point from them.
There is a risk that other competitors could play the same style of game which Australia can now be prepared for.
3. WHY ARE POINTS SO IMPORTANT?
With the influx of new fans to the game, one question being asked is, “Isn’t a draw better than a loss, aren’t we technically undefeated?” The answer is yes – but it’s not ideal.
The Asian Cup is not only a competition in its own right but a ticket to the 2019 FIFA World Cup, so a finish in the top five is crucial.
Earlier on match day, Japan defeated Vietnam meaning they currently lead Group B with Australia and South Korea tied on points.
A win against Vietnam on Wednesday will be crucial to move forward in the torunament in their bid for a shot at the World Cup next year.