I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed. Turns out playing a highline, wearing yellow shorts, and taking shoot farken advice off an i30 wasn’t a solid enough game plan to snag the Matildas a win in their opening match of the 2019 WWC, as Italy snapped home a last gasp winner in the 95th for a 2-1 victory.
I came into this game absolutely pumped and made sure I prepped right by having a mid-afternoon siesta to prepare myself for the uncivilised kick-off time of 8.30pm- bloody European nations hosting the World Cup means I’m not getting any…..sleep amiriteeee (#getonside2023). Just hours earlier we had tasted sweet Aussie glory with both Ash Barty and Dylan Alcott winning their Grand Slam titles in France and were hoping for the same green and gold dominance from our Matildas.
Both sides entered the match having not met for the past 5 years. The Matildas arrived as a top seed for the first time, whilst Italy were making their first appearance in 20 years; ranked 15th and with 5 consecutive wins under their Gucci belts as fairly boastful Cup preparation.
The Matildas fielded the same starting XI that went down to the Netherlands in their pre-Cup friendly, having been rocked earlier in the week with the withdrawal of Laura Alleway due to injury, Fowler reportedly being rested for this game with injury concerns, and KK with not enough minutes in the legs to get straight onto the pitch.
Kerr saw Australia’s opening chance in the 3rd following a huge curling cross from Catley, only to skim over the top bar. From here on out, the Matildas were a little shaky for the next 20-odd minutes trying to get used to playing the highline- it’s pretty hard to revise a game plan when you haven’t vised in the first place. The struggle to play through the midfield also pushed a lot of responsibility to the wing, with the Carpenter/Raso duo as refreshing as flipping your pillow to the cool side.
Italy quickly picked up on the Matilda’s frantic defending by starting what would be one of many runs behind our back 4 in the 9th for Bonansea to find as much space as the continent of Australia itself, to make an angled run and find the back of the net. Luckily for the Matildas, the AR flag eventually went up, and the decision went upstairs to the World Cup version of KGJ to see the goal wiped off in what we thought was a revenge moment for 2006.
Now it may be unAustralian of me to be defending the overturning of Italy’s goal but surely it is not unAustralian of me to let rip at the VAR- I believe this is one of the (many) examples of where VAR is misused. It should not be there as an audit tool to scrutinise every little decision. This was a goal where no other player on the field protested, no one in the stadium was up in arms claiming it was offside, even the commentators weren’t questioning the legitimacy of the goal…until the little VAR symbol starts flashing. With such a tight call, that took so long you could have cooked noodles two-times over in the meantime, the benefit should remain with the attacking team rather than the on-field decision (that has likely been influenced by the “raise your flag and let VAR decide” rule) and let it be game on. Alas, we got away with one for now.
The no-goal appeared to spur the Matildas into action as a decent chance came in the form of Van Egmond and Raso pairing up in the 19th for a low hard ball to go just wide of the post.
Glory came for Australia in the 21st as Kerr was taken down in the box by Gama with a bit of a shirt pull and push in the back. Not wanting her first World Cup goal to be from a penalty, Sam’s spot kick was initially saved by Giuliani, however Sam was able to find the ball on the rebound to slot in the opener in open play. A Cahill-esque corner flag punch celebration followed to remind us all that even in retirement, everyone is still blocked by Timmy.
Australia attempted to extend the lead in the 25th as Carpenter’s ball into Sam was nearly crossed back to Foord, but Gama’s crucial intervention sent it out of play for a corner. Catley stepped up to complete the set-piece, with Van-Egmond’s touch sending the ball agonisingly close, only to be denied by the crossbar. Logarzo also had her chance in the 37th minute following a Raso cross, but was denied by Giuliani.
The Matildas were able to hold on during the two minutes of extra time (despite the VAR decision taking longer than this alone) to lead at the break.
I think we all thought the Matildas would come out in the second having ironed out some of the turnovers and angst that we saw in the opening 45. Instead, the second half appeared to be an escape room that we just wanted to get out of.
In an attempt to play out from the back in the 55th, Polkinghorne took a heavy touch that found Bonansea, who was once again able to cut in and find the far post to give Italy the equaliser. And from here on out we were like trying to navigate a Hummer through a tiny Italian street- one-way traffic and we were going nowhere fast.
The 68th minute saw VAR turn up again for a possible penalty shout for potential handball by LDV. VAR is much like people calling me on my mobile phone- I know it is its function, but also can you not. The decision again took longer than us women trying to decide where we want to go out for dinner and happened almost two minutes after the initial play occurred, killing the flow and vibe of the game like a spider that we did not come here to f*ck.
The remainder of the half was characterised by Italy holding possession and continually being offside, including finding the back of the onion bag again in the 80th after clearly starting from an offside position.
The Matildas appeared to pick up slightly with the substitution of Yallop for Australia’s favourite Kardashian, KK in the 83rd, but we still couldn’t capitalise where it counted.
And then, in the land that invented it, came Déjà vu. Just like that fateful match in 2006, the exact same minute of injury-time came back to haunt us. The number 95 will now no longer be recognised in Australia as it only brings us heartbreak, with Bonansea’s header finding the back of the net off a set piece to give Italy the winner.
Both the VAR intervention and the late raising of offside flags during this game was diabolical. This was a game that would have sent Kerem Bulut into cardiac arrest. I understand that if calls are tight, AR’s have been instructed to keep their flags down to allow the play to continue and VAR to speculate over tea and biscuits later if in fact a goal eventuates. But, frequently throughout this game, Italy were so obviously offside by the length of the Titanic and play was allowed to continue before a flag was eventually raised. For me, this ruins the game in so many ways. Not only does it mean that we are using up game time that we don’t get back (although this may seem insignificant, 10-20 seconds each time play is allowed to continue adds up) but also players continue to put their bodies on the line and risk injury in what could be in total vain.
Let’s hope Milicic has been watching those two-minute noodle repair videos and has a fix prior to the Matilda’s next meeting against Brazil in what is the early hours of Friday morning for us Aussies. Also thank God Monday is a public holiday so I can come to terms with all of that – Monday’s suck, losing sucks, but it’s a little better when you don’t have to go to work, so thanks Lizzy!
By Hayley Routley