The 2019 Women’s World Cup, Group C: Australia’s Last Minute Blues
Australia 1-2 Italy
The first major surprise of this Women’s World Cup finals. Currently ranked sixth in the world, this was a match that Australia should have won in without too much exertion, but this was also their fourth defeat in a row, following friendly losses against the USA and twice against the Netherlands. And this afternoon’s match was a story of missed opportunities followed by a last minute sucker punch which left them out on the canvas. It took until midway through the first half for Australia to turn chances into goals, and even that came, it almost didn’t. A foul on Australia’s Sam Kerr by Sara Gama gave Australia a penalty kick after twenty-two minutes. Kerr, however, required two bites of the cherry to give Australia the lead. Her first kick was saved by the Italy goalkeeper Laura Giuliani. The rebound, however, bounced loose for Kerr to follow up to score. It was her first goal in the Women’s World Cup finals, in her ninth appearance in them.
Australia, however, reckoned without Barbara Bonansea. Bonansea had already had a goal disallowed (after a three minute delay – thanks, VAR) for offside after just nine minutes so the warning was already clear, but eleven minutes into the second half she brought them level. There followed a frantic second half during which the match swung from end to end like a pendulum. Italy had another goal ruled out for offside, this time when subsitute Daniela Sabatino scored from the second attempt after hitting the post, only to see her goal ruled out for offside. Both teams had shouts for penalty kicks of varying degrees of viability (Australia especially transitioned from Waltzing Matildas to Swan-diving Matildas for a period during the second half). but with just over twenty seconds left to play of the five minutes of stoppage-time at the end of the match, a disastrously mis-placed pass from Polkinghorne granted Bonansea the chance and, even though she seemed to lose her footing as she shot, she still rolled the ball into the corner of the goal to hand Italy a surprise win.
This result isn’t quite a disaster for Australia. Their next match, however, is particularly important. A failure to win against Brazil might well be enough to send Australia out of the competition with a game to spare, and even if they are ranked three places higher than Brazil, they’re hardly in form and Brazil still have Marta to bring off the bench to torment them, although Brazil’s form going into the tournament – nine straight defeats, going all the way back to the start of August last year. Italy, meanwhile, haven’t lost since losing to North Korea on penalty kicks in the Cyrprus Cup in March and will go into their next match against Jamaica knowing that a result of any sort will be enough to send them through to the next round of the competition. That winning goal from Barbara Bonansea might prove to be very valuable for them indeed.
Brazil 4-0 Jamaica
At present, Australia are the seventh ranked team in the world. Brazil might not be the force that they used to be when Marta was in her pomp, but they’re still ranked tenth and are plenty capable of springing a surprise, although the aforementioned iconic forward was left on the bench for their match against Jamaica. With Italy and Australia lining up alongside them, this group has something of a Group of Death feel to it, and they got off to a perfect start with a convincing win against the group underdogs. Still, though, Jamaica made them work for it. For much of the first half it was their goalkeeper, the nineteen year old Sydney Schneider, who was the star of the show with a strong of excellent saves culminating in foiling Andressa from the penalty spot. This time, the save at least had the feel of delivering some justic about it, with the decision to award to penalty kick after the ball was thwacked against Allyon Swaby’s arm from barely a yard away. Brazil already led by this time, a lovely far post header from Cristiane after fifteen minutes, but they went in at half-time still very much in a game.
Two further goals from Cristiane – an excellent hat-trick to start the tournament for legendary striker who’d already scored than eighty-three goals in one hundred and seventeen appearances for her country – killed the game as a contest, but Jamaica can still take considerable heart from their showing. The Jamaica women’s team was, as we noted on here just a few days ago, disbanded as recently as 2010 because of funding problems, and was only brought back to life four years later. That they should be here at all is a surprise in its own way, and they created chances of their own during the second half, although the score was ultimately kept down to a manageable three by a combination of an outstanding performance by the goalkeeper Schneider and Brazil’s profligacy in front of goal. For Brazil, meanwhile, the nightmare run is over and Australia now await, in what might well turn out to be a straight play-off for a place in the last sixteen.