The Matildas had looked less than impressive in the lead-up to the World Cup, but with a 1-0 halftime lead against Italy it looked as if they were on their way to a solid start to the tournament in France. Then the second half happened.
Despite having 17 shots on goal to five throughout the game, Australia conceded two goals in the second half, including one from a set piece in the final minute of the game to suffer a disastrous 2-1 setback.
It makes Friday’s fixture against Brazil a must-win match, but with coach Ante Milicic saying an immediate rethink will be required, the Australians look no certainties.
Milicic was crestfallen after the game in Valenciennes, saying the team had work to do if it was to make an impact.
“I wouldn’t say [it was] a strong performance. I thought we were decent but we weren’t at our best,” Milicic told SBS immediately after the game.
“In the end to concede that late from a set piece is very disappointing,”
Asked about Australia’s poor defending in the second half he said: “We really need to have a good look at it. Have an analysis. Look at the way we defended again”.
We’ve got three days now to regroup and look forward to the Brazil game.
“We need to look at both ends of the field. We created enough chances to score a few more but defensively we gave away too many chances and it is another area we’ll have to address.”
Matildas skipper Sam Kerr scored her debut World Cup goal at the 22nd minute mark after flubbing a penalty kick, but rebounding to score.
Australia had been lucky not to be one down in only the ninth minute when a Bonansea run ended with the ball in the back of the net. But after a long video review she was deemed to be offside.
Australia sparked up after that scare, with full-back Ellie Carpenter providing opportunities, including the cross that found Kerr in the box.
She was wrapped in a bear hug from opposing skipper Sara Gama and the referee pointed to the spot.
Chloe Logarzo might have added a second with a pair of headers, while Hayley Raso had a close-range effort.
At the other end, Williams made a point-blank save to deny Cristiana Girelli.
But after the break Australia returned to the pitch in less than impressive form.
The Italians consistently found a way forward, albeit often being caught offside.
Italy’s Barbara Bonansea made the difference, capitalising on an Australian defensive error to score in the 56th minute and again in the 95th with less than one minute to play.
The disaster unfolded for Australia when Italy won a free kick in the corner, allowing the Juventus winger to jump above Kerr in the box and put a header past Lydia Williams.
Kerr was upbeat despite the shock loss and seemed confident her team could turn it around against Brazil.
“[It’s] disappointing to lose. But we’ve still got two games,” she told SBS. “We’re definitely not out. It’s disappointing to lose but we’ll stick together. Focus on Brazil now.
I think we dominated the first half and kept possession really well but we didn’t take our chances.
“I don’t think we created enough chances. Look, it’s the first game. Get the jitters out. Focus on Brazil and be happy with it.”