Don’t mess with Sam Kerr.
That’s one of the many takeaways from Australia’s miracle in Montpellier. The Matildas became only the second team in Women’s World Cup history to overturn a two goal disadvantage, and the first to beat Brazil after the Latin Americans were leading at half-time.
But up there with the Aussie heroics were the words of captain Kerr, perhaps the best striker in the world, following the victory.
“There were a lot of critics talking about us,” said the Perth Glory star. “But we’re back – so suck on that one. That’s outside noise, we don’t listen to the haters.”
Suck on that one indeed.
With "never say die" stitched inside their shirts, 🇦🇺@TheMatildas embodied that motto against 🇧🇷Brazil.
“It is the Australian spirit. When we have backs to the wall, we come out swinging."💪
— FIFA Women's World Cup (@FIFAWWC) June 13, 2019
The context here is multi-layered. Australia unexpectedly sacked its coach, Alen Stajcic, in January. The reasons for that move remain contested – some say he had permitted a toxic environment to develop within the team, others say he was the innocent victim of an internal power struggle. The full story is yet to emerge – but just two weeks ago a member of the Football Federation Australia (FFA) board issued a grovelling apology to Stajcic, possibly under pain of a libel suit.
The ghost of Stajcic’s tenure and abrupt dismissal lingered over the Matildas. It was a constant query from the press when the team arrived in France. Those questions grew louder when Australia unexpectedly lost to Italy in their opening match. Replacement coach Ante Milicic became the lightning rod for criticism, as “Staj truthers” – supporters of the former coach – sought someone to blame.
The Aussies had entered the World Cup as legitimate overall contenders – ranked number six in the world and with a potent forward line. They were drubbed by the Netherlands in a pre-tournament friendly, then beaten by an Italian team making their first appearance at the World Cup in two decades. Two goals down against heavyweights Brazil with half-time looming on Thursday, and it seemed the Matildas’ campaign was over. Recriminations loomed – fear and loathing in France.
But what a difference 46 minutes and three goals make. The Matildas scored on the brink of half-time, and then nabbed two in the second-half – before a valiant rearguard effort saw them close out the match. From being on the verge of World Cup exit, the Australians are now well-placed to win group C.
“That win was definitely for [manager] Ante,” Kerr’s team-mate, player of the match Chloe Logarzo, said afterwards. “The criticism is mainly directed at him, and it is really disheartening for us to hear that. The amount of belief he has instilled in us and the amount of work he has put in is incredible.”
It is easy to get ahead of one’s self. A solitary win – however impressive – over an ageing Brazil side does not sweep away the disappointing defeats to Holland and Italy and the defensive frailties those losses exposed. And the Stajcic saga refuses to die – the FFA is understood to be launching an independent review of the matter following the World Cup.
But Australia’s triumph on Thursday showed that the Matildas could put that “outside noise” behind them. Coach Milicic suggested that it was “one of the finest Australian performances that I’ve seen”.
It might just be the victory that inspires Australia through to the latter rounds of the tournament. As Kerr and co showed at the Stade de la Mosson, anything is possible. “It was nice to come out swinging when our backs are against the wall,” Logarzo added. “We like a good fight.”
If Australia keep up the good fight, the “haters” will have plenty more to “suck on” before the World Cups is over. And we might get to enjoy more Kerr theatrics – on the pitch and when speaking to the press.
Thank you to all the Aussie’s in France, amazing to have so much green and gold with us 💚💛🇦🇺 pic.twitter.com/WTIi12WLWi
— Sam Kerr (@samkerr1) June 14, 2019
Tips for Friday and Saturday
Australia’s Group C counterparts Italy and Jamaica face off on Friday evening in Reims. Italy are firm favourites after their upset win over the Matildas in the opening match, while Jamaica lost heavily to Brazil. But the Reggae Girlz have overcome many an obstacle just to make it to France – and they will be determined to collect at least a point from the group. A draw looks excellent value, paying 7/1.
In the final Friday match, England faces old enemies Argentina. This is only the Argentinians’ third World Cup – they were so underfunded by the AFA that they did not play a single match between 2015 and 2017. But the Albicelestes shut out Japan for the first goalless draw of the tournament on Monday. It would be an almighty shock, another draw – at 10/1 – might be smart money.
New Zealand came within 120 seconds of a hard-fought point against the Netherlands, only to be sucker-punched at the death. They will want to bounce back against on Saturday in Grenoble against Canada, who looked unconvincing in their win against Cameroon. If the Kiwis can defend as resolutely as they did against the Dutch, their chances of nicking a goal are reasonable – a New Zealand win is 7/1.