Tony Gustavsson, Australia’s manager, praised the performance of his players in their 4-1 win over South Africa and credited coming to Europe with giving them more time to prepare for international friendlies before their home World Cup next summer.
Australia and South Africa meeting at Kingsmeadow in the suburbs of south-west London may seem strange, but of the 22 Australians in Gustavsson’s squad only two ply their trade on home soil.
Nine play in Gustavsson’s home country, Sweden, while seven play in England, with the striker Sam Kerr based at Kingsmeadow with Chelsea.But there was no Kerr in Australia’s starting XI, with the Chelsea forward on the bench after suffering an illness during the week. The crowd was also speckled with Arsenal shirts, as Gunners fans came to show support for Caitlin Foord and Steph Catley.
“We love playing on home soil in Australia, especially in a World Cup year – getting that connection with the fans and doing it all together with the football community back home,” Gustavsson said. “So in that sense, it’s important we play in Australia. From a football preparation standpoint, it’s massive that we get these camps in Europe.
“We had five training days now compared to the last training camp in Australia when we had two and a half days. It was massive. You could see that. We’ve been looking for a solid performance over 90 minutes for a long time and this was the most solid performance.”
Desiree Ellis’s South Africa were without a host of key players including their captain, Janine van Wyk, and Racing Louisville’s Thembi Kgatlana. In the absence of Kerr, Sydney FC’s Cortnee Vine, one of the two squad members who play their domestic football in the A-League Women, led the line for the Matildas.
Her impact was swift. A corner from Catley five minutes in was sent goalward by the head of Lyon’s Mary Fowler. The ball came back off a post having slipped through the hands of the goalkeeper Regirl Ngobeni and the 24-year-old Vine poked over the line from close range.
Her first international goal was followed by her second less than 20 minutes later. A wonderful flicked pass from Catley found Foord, who put the ball into the middle and Vine sent a neat back-heel volley in.
Yes, Vine was scoring against a team ranked 54 in the world, 42 places below Australia, but she was lively and potent when called upon.
Shortly before half-time Australia had a third, with Catley’s corner headed neatly in by the centre-back Clare Polkinghorne.
This was a dominant and rampant Australia performance, but South Africa were far from bad. There is a reason the Banyana Banyana have risen to the top of African football, having won the 2022 Africa Women Cup of Nations, and the scoreline could have been far more damaging.
In the second half South Africa were tighter at the back but Foord delivered a fourth goal, collecting from Catley before skating free of Bambanani Mbane and sending a shot low into the far corner. Kerr entered for a cameo in the 83rd minute, with the crowd ecstatic at her arrival.
With two minutes of normal time remaining South Africa were rewarded for their battling performance. A goal-kick was pushed past Polkinghorne by the substitute Melinda Kgadiete into the run of Hildah Magaia and the forward, seeing the goalkeeper Teagan Micah bafflingly far off her line, lifted the ball over her and in.
“We were looking for an improved performance, it’s not where we wanted to be but it’s step by step and I felt we have improved,” said Ellis.