The Matildas will face Brazil on Friday morning AEST in what could be a make or break game in their 2019 World Cup campaign.
After suffering the disappointment of a dramatic late defeat against Italy in their opening group stage match, the team ranked sixth in the world face a do or die clash against the Brazilians, knowing that a win will almost guarantee a safe qualification through to the knockout stages.
Three points against the world’s 10th best women’s team will leave them both locked on three points, while Italy will jump to six assuming they beat Jamaica, which opens the door for the Matildas to claim victory on the final day knowing that Italy and Brazil will take points of each other in their match.
One loss in a World Cup group stage is not a huge deal, but two defeats can almost certainly be fatal and Ante Milicic’s side will be keen to ensure they are on the right end of the score line next time around.
Injuries continue to be an issue for the Matildas with Clare Polkinghorne, Caitlin Foord, and Lisa de Vanna facing a race to be fit to face Brazil as well as youngster Mary Fowler, with Laura Alleway already ruled out for the entire tournament.
Elise Kellond-Knight has returned to full training in a boost for the side but there still remains a gaping hole at the back, with Alanna Kennedy currently the only fully fit centre-back in the squad.
Defence was the issue against the Italians with Polkinghorne’s giveaway for the equaliser and lax marking in the box on the free-kick that resulted in the winner.
Within the opening eight minutes the Matildas’ defence was breached and Italy very nearly took the lead but for the offside flag, a moment that seemed to carry forward a trend for the rest of the match where the side struggled to command the ball at the back and keep the ball going forward.
The offside trap did appear effective as Italy had two goals ruled out, but the pressure of those ‘near miss’ situations seemed to rattle the team and create a flow-on effect in their build up play when they got on the ball.
Sam Kerr struggled to get on the ball and the likes of Hayley Raso and Tameka Yallop toiled fruitlessly in the battle to win the midfield and dictate the tempo.
The winning goal was coming for some time for Le Azzurre and was ultimately a deserved one in the match, a credit to their play in an impressive first win in the tournament that they have not qualified for in 20 years.
The Matildas must rectify their defensive deficiencies ahead of their huge battle with Brazil, a team that they have beaten in their last four meetings. That record will give Milicic some much needed confidence going into the clash, but with striker Cristiane coming off the back of a hat-trick and superstar Marta set to return to the side, the danger is there for that run to come to an end.
There is more than enough quality in the squad and in the coaching staff to address the concerns and have the Matildas back on the right track when they face Brazil, and the team will no doubt be ready to bounce back with their future in the tournament on the line.