With the dust settling on the Matildas opening FIFA Women's World Cup match, it's time to take an in-depth tactical review of the game.
Italy played 4-4-2, with Barbara Bonansea occupying a deeper left midfield position (1) when Australia had possession, and breaking forward to provide an outlet on the left wing when Italy attacked.
Generally, Italy looked to play on the counterattack. This involved defending in a compact block around the halfway line (2), waiting for a loose pass or touch before counterattacking with early balls in behind the Australian defence.
Australia endured a shaky opening period, with Italy playing several early balls in behind Australia’s very high defensive line in the opening 15 minutes. This was exemplified by Italy’s early goal, which VAR ruled out for offside, although it appeared that Steph Catley was playing Bonansea onside.
Eventually, Australia settled into the game, with the defensive line adopting a slightly deeper position and opening space for their midfielders to get on the ball.
Australia played a very clear 4-2-3-1, and attempted to break Italy’s mid-block by playing short combinations between their defenders and holding midfielders Emily van Egmond and Tameka Yallop.
This would provoke the Italian forwards and midfielders to press. With Australia having a 3v2 overload in central midfield, this allowed Australia to easily find a free player (usually van Egmond (3)) who would release the fullbacks and wingers into the space created. In particular, Australia preferred to attack down their right via fullback Ellie Carpenter, who spent much of the game in advanced positions (4).
Italy were unsure how to press against this 3v2. This was particularly clear when the Italian forwards and midfielders were drawn to press Australia high up the field (5), as shown here with Alanna Kennedy on the ball.
With the Italian defenders wary of joining the high press against the speed of Sam Kerr (6), this left a huge space between the Italian midfield and defence (7), and Australia were able to position one of Caitlin Foord or Tameka Yallop (8) between the lines. Unfortunately, this didn’t happen frequently enough.
This indecision led to Australia’s opening goal, with Australia working the space to find overlapping fullback Carpenter open on the right. Seeing this, Kerr faked to move to Sara Gama’s blind side before checking back towards the near post, with this clever movement forcing Gama to concede a penalty.
Kerr converted to put Australia 1-0 up, and Australia generally looked comfortable from thereon, with Italy struggling to impose themselves in the game after their bright start.