The Matildas have defeated Thailand 2-0 to finish the year on the longest winning streak of Tony Gustavsson’s coaching tenure and confirm positive signs ahead of next year’s World Cup on home soil.
The final scoreline did not reflect the Matildas’ dominance of a game characterised by missed opportunities.
Australia finished Tuesday night’s match at Central Coast Stadium with 31 shots on goal compared with Thailand’s five, but they needed 14 to finally break the deadlock.
Thailand struggled for avenues in the front third so were never really at risk of upsetting their hosts, who are set for more friendlies in 2023 as the World Cup approaches.
Captain Sam Kerr had three genuine chances to score inside 10 minutes and Hayley Raso and Cortnee Vine were constant threats with their pace down the wings, but the scoreline remained 0-0 until the 40th minute.
Thailand’s luck finally ran out when Kerr headed a Katrina Gorry corner into the back of the net, giving the Matildas the advantage at the break.
Gustavsson made no changes to the starting side that thrashed Sweden last week but Mary Fowler, Larissa Crummer and Emily Van Egmond came on after the interval.
A natural striker, Crummer replaced defender Charlotte Grant who appeared to pick up a knock in the countdown to half-time.
Just two minutes after the break, Raso tore through the middle of the Thai defence and showed no signs of the corked thigh she suffered in the first half as she blasted home Australia’s second.
Kerr earned an early mark in the 62nd minute, replaced by Alex Chidiac, and the Australians did not score again despite continuing to enjoy the bulk of chances.
With her 151st appearance for the national side, defender Clare Polkinghorne joined Cheryl Sainsbury as the most-capped Matilda of all time.
In the final 10 minutes, Elise Kellond-Knight made her return from a two-and-a-half year injury lay-off that pre-dated the Tokyo Olympics, while Gustavsson handed Matilda McNamara her debut.
Australia have now won their last four games and are undefeated in nine clashes with Thailand.
For the first time in the Tony Gustavsson era, the Matildas have back-to-back wins over opposition ranked in the world’s top 20, running rampant in the second-half to demolish Sweden 4-0 at AAMI Park on Saturday afternoon.
The victory earns the Matildas their highest-ranked scalp since a win over the United States half a decade prior and is their biggest-ever win over top-five opposition. For Gustavsson, it might have come at the expense of the land of his birth but, looking to build upon the nascent momentum from the October international window, the Matildas boss could not have asked for a better outcome.
As he raised his hands above his head to applaud the 22,065 fans in attendance, the Swedish coach might have been wondering if his side can come back to Melbourne more than once every four years. After coming under significant pressure following two disappointing defeats to Canada in September, the 49-year-old has now righted the ship – or at least bought himself some respite – with his side’s current winning run, which should reach a four-game streak when his side faces Thailand on Tuesday evening.
“For us, it’s all about feeling good,” Matildas attacker Caitlin Foord said. “Coming off the back of those two wins, we wanted to keep that momentum coming into this one. And we do feel good. I think we’re playing the style of football we want to play. We want to be aggressive and take it to teams no matter who they are. That’s what we did today and the result showed that.”
The Matildas were somewhat fortunate to be holding a one-goal lead at halftime thanks to Sam Kerr’s 37th-minute opener. But in the second stanza they were as ruthless as they were lethal, using physicality and transition to put Blågult to the sword with three more goals.
Caitlin Foord was rampant in securing her brace and Mary Fowler a fourth for a side looking nothing like the one that couldn’t put together a full 90 minute performance against Canada the last time they played on home soil.
Foord, the player of the match, has now scored five goals in her last three games for the Matildas and is suddenly her country’s most in-form player at both international and domestic level. As for Kerr, by sliding in to meet a cross sent in towards the near post by Hayley Raso , she opened the scoring with her first goal for the national side since April and her first against a top-20-ranked nation since she scored against Brazil last October.
More importantly for a side zeroing in on a home World Cup in less than a year, Gustavsson looks to have cemented the 4-2-4 formation attack as his side’s ticket to the goals they need. Foord’s move to the centre is a big part of this. It opens up new avenues of attack for the team, as exemplified by her second goal of the game (and the Matildas’ fourth), a strike delivered not in transition but, instead, from a throw-in in which Foord proved pivotal at both its beginning and end.
Of course there were still signs of concern and several reasons to hold off on placing an order on “2023 World Cup winners” decorations. As has become tradition for the Matildas when they return home, they started the game with great energy only for these promising signs to be quickly tempered. Coach Peter Gerhardsson’s Swedes began to stir themselves into life around ten minutes in, increasingly creating quality chances and forays forward that left their foes scrambling to repulse.
On another day, if any of these efforts had gone in, the game’s dynamics might have shifted irrevocably. And the Matildas’ issues with creating chances when they can’t get out and run and instead have to penetrate against a set defence, as was seen here, will come under greater scrutiny.
“I think we struggled for 30 minutes in the first half and were lucky not to be down 1-0,” said Gustavsson. “I think we started off very good, the first five minutes. But after that, I think we got way too stretched and passive in our defending.
“They played through us, they played around us and we could have been 1-0 down. We did a tactical adjustment [at the 30-minute mark] that worked out well. So we finished off really well.”
Indeed, Kerr’s ability to find and redirect the ball beyond Zecira Musovic just before the halftime break proved pivotal. When a side is struggling, it needs its superstars to step up, justify their stature and prove why they’re so important. That’s what Kerr did in scoring the opener. It shifted the game’s dynamics in a manner that set the tone for the important victory to come.