The Matildas opened their 2019 account with a convincing 2-0 win over Trans-Tasman neighbours New Zealand in the first round of the inaugural Cup of Nations.
Here are three things we learnt:
1. Matildas have something to prove
After a rocky start to the year for the Matildas, they came out firing with something to prove to the Australian public.
Armed with a new coach, newly appointed captains, a few fresh faces and players making their injury-comeback, the Matildas were ready to kick off their first game of the year.
From the get go, the home side turned up the intensity and looked the most lively they have in a long time. They played with intention and a renewed sense of direction – their passes were slick, and movement on and off the ball was fantastic.
Credit to New Zealand who sat back and absorbed the pressure, causing the Matildas to have difficulties in the final third, and chances went begging in the first half as their decision-making and finishing let them down.
The deadlock should have been broken at the 38th minute, when Emily van Egmond’s shot drifted just wide of the goal after a wonderful one-two by Steph Catley and Caitlin Foord.
However, it took an Emily Gielnik strike to the bottom left corner just before halftime to settle the Matildas’ nerves and they closed off a strong performance with another goal by Hayley Raso.
2. Caught on the counter
There were multiple times where the Matildas’ defence got caught out with a ball over the top, due to the nature of their high press.
For teams that sit deep and play the counter-attacking game, this could be one of the ways they can catch the Matildas off-guard – if the defenders are not disciplined enough in springing the offside trap.
The Ferns’ most promising chance came in this fashion when Sarah Gregorius – who had been making darting runs the whole game – got in behind the defence and lobbed the ball past Lydia Williams. Unfortunately for her, the attempt went just wide of goal.
Whether or not there will need to be a slight change in tactics or formation when coming up against teams that rely on a long ball to catch the Matildas’ defence out, it will be up to newly-appointed Ante Milicic to experiment and decide with his personnel at hand.
3. Ribbons Raso, comeback queen
Six months ago, Raso broke three vertebrae in her back during a game with Portland Thorns in the NWSL and had to learn how to walk again. She has not played for the Matildas since the 2018 edition of Tournament of Nations back in early August.
Fast forward to now, it took her just under three minutes to find the back of the net after coming off the bench, marking her incredible journey to return in green and gold.
Just one look at Raso’s face during her goal celebration, and you can see how much it really means to her to be back.