Chloe Logarzo put the Matildas ahead on 22’, latching onto a Lisa De Vanna through ball.

Yet, just as it seemed the USA’s assault on Australia’s goal would be in vain, the Lindsey Horan’s 91st minute header salvaged a much-deserved point for the hosts.

Though the USA would argue they deserved victory — with more possession and shots than Australia — these stats do not tell the full story and ignore Australia’s defensive stoicism and rapid counterattacks.

Australia deny the USA clear chances

Australian media and fans have waxed lyrical about the development of Alen Stajcic’s Matildas, though for perhaps the wrong reasons. While one cannot ignore the Matildas’ improvements in offence, particularly their patient build-up from the back and clinical combinations in the final third, the real difference has been in Australia’s defensive aptitude.

Sam Kerr, Lisa De Vanna and Hayley Raso showed defensive nous we had not seen from previous Matilda outfits pre-Stajcic. For example, when the USA’s centre-backs were in possession, Australia alternated between 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formations. In recent years, teams around the world have deployed a 4-4-2 in defence, with their 9 and 10 block narrow passing lanes, and the 7 and 11 drop in alongside 6 & 8. However, the Matildas buck this trend in their 4-2-3-1 defensive formation, and premise their strategy around Kerr’s pace to create three possible ways to win the ball.

  1. Kerr’s pressing forces the opposition centre-backs to play rushed passes, which in turn affects the opposition’s ability to build out from the back.
  2. Kerr arcs her run to force the pass to either sideline, whereby the nearest winger presses the ball and the surrounding midfielders block passing lanes.
  3. The defenders play long balls to relieve themselves of pressure, thus giving Australia a chance to win the ball aerially.

Key to Australia’s defensive shape was the role of their two holding midfielders — Chloe Logarzo and Emily van Egmond — and Tameka Butt. The three would hold their shape, within metres of each other, and would press the USA's midfielders and they received the ball — with their back to goal — from a centre-back. There are two aims with this blend of zonal and man-to-man marking:

  1. Primarily, Australia’s midfielders would seek to win the ball, either through an outright interception, or winning the ball as the ball carrier tries to turn.
  2. Secondly, and usually more likely, Australia’s midfielders would stick tight to the receiver, and prevent them from turning to face goal. This would, therefore, force a sideways or backwards pass, whereby the process continues.

Stajcic would consider their approach a success, as — notwithstanding the early stages where the USA had a flurry of chances through the middle — the hosts were limited to hopeful crosses and long-range shots throughout the game.