WITH THE WORLD CUP in our collective rear-view mirror, the Matildas have shown their impressive form on the big stage was anything but a one-off. Defeating Iran 2-0 in a dominant outing, the Matildas have kickstarted their Olympic qualification campaign as they look to clear a path to Paris 2024.
Head coach Tony Gustavsson warned that the full brunt of the Matildas’ force would not be heaved upon Iran for most of the match. Instead, he suggested he would opt for a new look lineup, providing rest for the jet-lagged stars. He wasn’t lying. The starting lineup that trotted out must have appeared strikingly unfamiliar for any fans whose experience with the team was limited to the World Cup.
Clare Polkinghorne, Emily Van Egmond and Ellie Carpenter were the only players in the starting lineup who also started a game during the world cup. The big names stayed on the bench, and filling out the rest of the team was a selection of young talent who didn’t get to shine during the Matildas’ World Cup semi-final run, but proved a force to be reckoned with nonetheless.
Ellie Carpenter opened the scoring in the 19th minute, a not too common feat for a defender. The Matildas dominated the opening period, but in a game they were predicted to win handily, the difference remained only a goal heading into half-time. The young squad failed to capitalise on numerous big chances, but all that meant was that the team’s immense arsenal of firepower sitting on the bench was well-rested and primed to make an impact in the second half. In the 65th minute, Gustavsson decided enough was enough, sending world cup goalscorers Sam Kerr, Steph Catley and Mary Fowler into the fray.
It didn’t take long for Kerr to leave her mark. With the star striker slotting away an easy finish in the 78th minute to put the result beyond doubt. Ending 2-0, the match showed that, when operating at full strength, the Matildas can be downright unstoppable.
The last time the Matildas played in Perth was in 2018, when they defeated Thailand 5-0 in front of a paltry crowd of just over 7,500 fans. Now, it’s abundantly clear that times have changed, and the hype surrounding the team is here to stay. Where the ‘tillies go, fans surely follow. A near capacity crowd 18,798 packed into HBF park to watch the Matildas on Thursday, and their next match against the Philippines had to be moved to the larger Optus Stadium to accommodate for unprecedentedly high demand for tickets. A sellout crowd of close to 50,000 is expected for that clash.
What do the Matildas need to do to qualify for the Olympics?
The Matildas’ match against Iran was the first of three they’ll play over the next seven days, as part of the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) Olympic qualifying tournament. We’re already in the second group stage of the tournament, as the Matildas received a bye in the first round. The Matildas will need to finish first in their group of four to guarantee a place in the next round. Alternatively, if they finish second and have more points than the second-place finishers in other groups, they will also advance. In the final round of qualification, the group winners and the best second place team will be drawn against each other in a do or die two-leg knockout. The two winners in the final round will directly qualify for next year’s summer Olympic Games in Paris.
Given their far superior world ranking, it’s expected that the Matildas won’t have any problems topping their group. But that’s easier said than done. Their groupmates, the Philippines, defeated Taiwan 4-1 yesterday. Meaning that they’re currently sitting atop the group on goal difference, for now.
Since women’s football was introduced to the Olympic programme in 1996, the Matildas have qualified for four out of seven tournaments. It’s been a while since they missed qualification though, missing out most recently missed in 2012, so don’t be too concerned.
When do the Matildas play next?
Following their comfortable victory over Iran, the Matildas will now face the Philippines at Optus Stadium on Sunday, October 29th, at 6:10PM AEDT. Then they’ll play Taiwan on Wednesday, November 1st, 10PM AEDT. Both games will be broadcast live and free on Channel 10 and are available to stream on the 10Play app and Paramount+.
Has Mary Fowler stepped up?
A shining star amongst a sky full of glistening constellations, Mary Fowler established herself as a key figure in the Matildas’ lineup at the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup. At just 20 years of age, she showed once again against Iran why she’s touted as the future of the Matildas.
Starting on the bench, Fowler entered the game in the 65th minute and made an immediate impact. Demonstrating the same aptitude to her playstyle that guided the Matildas at the World Cup in the absence of Sam Kerr, Fowler completed a string of pinpoint, long-distance passes, deftly controlled first-touches, and penetrating forward runs. Fowler’s impressive run of form culminated in setting up Kerr’s 78th minute goal. With fowler providing the ‘assist to the assist’ so to speak, with a perfectly placed through ball to Steph Catley, who nabbed the eventual assist with a precise cross.
“Mind-blowingly good” was how coach Gustavsson described Fowler’s performance after the match. “I think she was our best, which means we have another tool now in the wide areas, which is perfect for us.” Fowler’s profile on the international stage continues to grow, and her standout production with the Matildas has also led to a breakthrough at her club, Manchester City. Fowler has started all four games for her team so far this season, notching two assists, and helping City reach the top of the WSL table.