Sport Football Gielnik, Raso strikes fire Matildas past New Zealand in Cup of Nations
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Gielnik, Raso strikes fire Matildas past New Zealand in Cup of Nations

Alanna Kennedy (centre) congratulates Emily Gielnik for scoring the opener at Leichhardt Oval. Photo: Getty
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The Matildas have passed their first test under new coach Ante Milicic’s leadership, defeating New Zealand 2-0 in a spirited start to their Cup of Nations campaign.

Emily Gielnik and Hayley Raso gave Australia a deserving win on Thursday night at Sydney’s Leichhardt Oval, scoring goals either side of halftime.

It might have been more for the Matildas, given Elise Kellond-Knight and Tameka Butt hit the crossbar.

After the tumult of the side’s coaching dramas, Milicic and his team can look back on a job well done.

The match was the team’s first outing since dramatically parting ways last month with long-term boss Alen Stajcic under the pretext of cultural issues.

The meeting with the Football Ferns was a match Australia should win; the Kiwis are ranked 19th in the world, 13 behind Australia, and hadn’t beaten the Matildas for 25 years.

The leadership changes meant Milicic’s side ran out with an uncertainty but, once out on the ground, the Matildas played with a continuity that belied their month of drama.

With Kellond-Knight superb in a marshalling role, Australia dictated terms.

New Zealand, with a back five, held firm at first but soon the chances rolled in.

On her debut as captain, Sam Kerr’s quick feet drew a foul at the top of the box, with Kellond-Knight hitting the crossbar from the resulting free kick.

Emily van Egmond arrived perfectly in the box to meet Caitlin Foord’s cutback, only to sidefoot wide.

Kerr tested Kiwi goalkeeper Erin Nayler and Ellie Carpenter’s cross caught a Kiwi hand in the box without a penalty awarded.

New Zealand had its chances, with record goalscorer Sarah Gregorius testing Lydia Williams, before Gielnik arrived to give Australia blessed relief.

The in-form Melbourne Victory winger steadied after collecting Abby Erceg’s headed clearance, firing home a left-footed shot through the same defender’s legs.

As Kerr’s outing ended on the hour mark, Gregorius was sent through by Annalie Longo but her chip of Williams bounced agonisingly wide.

Milicic rung the changes, returning Teresa Polias to international football after four years away, and handing Raso her first Matildas run since breaking her back last year.

The speedster had already created chances in the three minutes she’d been on, before collecting a ball from fellow injury returnee Amy Harrison and struck sweetly for Australia’s second.

The Matildas continue their Cup of Nations campaign in Brisbane against South Korea, which defeated Argentina 5-0 earlier on Thursday in the tournament opener.

-AAP

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