The 2019 Women’s World Cup: Norway vs Australia
Australia 1-1 Norway (Norway win 4-1 on penalty kicks)
With disallowed goals, penalty claims being turned away, a red card and eventually a penalty shootout, this evening saw what might well turn out to be the most incident-filled match of the second round of this summers Women’s World Cup. But at the end of the evening there was a tinge of sadness about this result. This was very much the sort of match that neither team really deserved to lose, but a loser ahad to be found and it turned out that, on this occasion, the losers were Australia. And it’s a shame to be saying goodbye to them. They’ve been great fun.
Sam Kerr shooting narrowly wide within twenty-five seconds of kick-off set the tone for a perky opening half-hour, with both teams taking pot shots at each other, testing each other out. When the goal came, though, it came with a counter-attack of devasating simplicity and pace. Kerr – again – almost scored at one end, but Norway broke and Karina Saevik’s absolutely magnificent diagonal pass – quite possibly the pass of the tournament – for Isabell Herlovson, who brought the ball under controlled and scored with the minimum of fuss. If it wasn’t for the fact it’s the wrong country, I’d say Ikea-like efficiency and use of space.
If nothing else, Austalia have had a mixed experience with VAR of late. In the Brazil match an offside was overturned because Sam Kerr – the only Australian footballer – was not considered to be interfering with play. The own goal, by Brazil’s Monica, kept Australia in the tournament. Many consider, however, that Kerr was a distractive presence in that moment, and the goal should have been ruled out. This evening, though, they didn’t seem able to get the same rub of the green. Three minutes from half-time the ball bounced down off the arm or shoulder of Norway’s Maria Thorisdottir and the referee blew for a penalty kick.
And this incident did look like handball. Thorisdottir moved her body towards the ball and if a bit of it did hit the shoulder, a bigger chunk seemed to strike the top of the arm. But then again, what do I know? Who on earth does know whatb handball is any more? It certainly feels as though people are making it up as they go along. Just after an hour had been played, meanwhile, a ball put Kerr (!) through and she put the ball into the back of the net, only for (you guessed it) the video assistant to call play back and the referee to disallow the goal because Kerr’s big toe had been three inches offside. Not so much a problem with the VAR, this, as a problem with the fundamentally broken current interpretations of the law of the game, as well those those laws themselves.
With seven minutes to go, though, Australia won a corner on the right and Elise Kellond-Knight’s low cross slipped through everybody and into the open goal to provide the Matilda’s with a lifeline. It was a terribly defended goal (and for those amongst you thinking “and not very Scandinanvian either”, I should remind you that Sweden conceded one very similar within the first three minutes of their final group match against the USA), and it was almost rendered irrelevant two minutes into stoppage-time when Caroline Graham Hansen’s header bounced off the inside of the post and trickled along the line without crossing it.
Another big advantage was granted to Canada towards the end of a first half of extra-time which had swung dramatically from end to end when Kennedy pulled on Utland’s shirt and the referee decided – again backed up by the all-seeing eye – that this was a straight red card offence. Even after this, Australia hung on by their fingernails when Bøe Risa’s lob from distance clanked against their crossbar in extra-time stoppage-time. This turned the second half of extra-time into a game of attack versus defence. Australia, however, dug in deep and clung on for a penalty shootout.
When that came, though, defeat for Australia was actually quite resounding. Sam Kerr, the nucleus around which the team holds together, fired the first kick high over the Norwegian crossbar. Emily Gielnik’s was saved by Hjelmseth. After Steph Catley finally scored for them, Ingrid Syrstad Engen calmly scored, just as the three Norwegian players preceding her had. Norway were through to the quarter-finals of the 2019 Women’s World Cup, where they will play England or Cameroon, who play on Sunday afternoon.
Perhaps Australia were just too defensively chaotic to get much further in this competition anyway, though. Football at any level is a team game, and if one part of that team is not set up correctly, well, you may be able to keep that covered up for a game or two, or perhaps three or even four, but the odds are stacked against you to an increasingly vertiginous level, you’ll get found out eventually. Australia were enormous fun to watch, and glorious going forward. Sam Kerr is clearly still one of the most gifted forward players in the world, and if nothing else, that’s something for them to take from this tournament. They also gave us probably the most entertaining so far, coming from two goals down to beat Brazil in their second group match.
When push came to shove, though, Norway had the cooler heads. They haven’t been especially impressive until this evening, but the full role that they played in this evening’s match is probably the best they’ve played all tournament, even if they couldn’t force the actual result from 120 minutes of open play this evening. They deserved the win, but it’s probably correct that the record books record this as a match won by one of football’s most narrow or margins. Should England get past Cameroon tomorrow afternoon, they will find a tough test awaiting them in the quarter-finals next week.