Australia’s FIFA Women's World Cup run ended with a penalty shootout loss to Norway.
The game was a perfect encapsulation of their World Cup - admirable fighting spirit to mount a late comeback, but the same shortcomings ultimately proving fatal.
Australia’s possession problems continue
At this World Cup, Australia’s brightest attacking moments have generally come on the counterattack. The pace and athleticism of forwards Sam Kerr, Caitlin Foord, Lisa de Vanna, Emily Gielnik, and Hayley Raso means they are most dangerous when they have space to run into.
Furthermore, Australia lack midfielders who are capable of playing passing combinations in tight spaces and playing dangerous through balls. Only Emily van Egmond and Katrina Gorry really fit the bill, but the former has been used in a deeper position far from goal, while the latter has had limited game time.
It’s no surprise then that Australia has struggled against teams set in their defensive block. As a result, instead of playing through teams, Australia try to play around them. A typical Australia attack begins with short passing between the centrebacks and holding midfielder van Egmond, before passing it out wide and aiming crosses for the head of Sam Kerr.
This worked against teams without strong centrebacks (see Jamaica), but not so against Italy or Brazil previously, or Norway here.
In the photo below, centreback Steph Catley has the ball (1). With Norway in a compact low block (2), we see Australia set up to overload the wide areas, with both the fullback (3) and winger (4) tight to the sideline.
No Australian midfielder is in a position to receive between the lines, and without a rotation (for example, (5)), Norway’s lines didn’t have to worry about being split or turned towards their own goal.
This lack of movement and rotation was evident here (and in previous games), and made it easy and predictable for Norway to defend. Consequently, outside of the first 5 minutes (more of this later), Australia barely posed a threat in the first half.
In the second half, Australia started to look more dangerous, with Tameka Yallop and Chloe Logarzo in between the lines more frequently. This allowed them to break into the gaps created by the Norwegian fullbacks coming out to mark Australia’s wingers, as shown below.
Here, Australia has built up as usual, with fullback Ellie Carpenter receiving the pass (6). Norway left back Kristine Minde is drawn out of the block in anticipation of the pass to Raso (7), opening a space for Yallop to run into (8) and receive Carpenter’s pass (9). This type of midfield run put pressure on Norway’s defence, and helped Australia win a succession of corners. Appropriately, Australia scored from this route.