The Matildas’ stunning 3-2 win over Brazil has kept their World Cup hopes alive, but skipper Sam Kerr’s “suck on that” comment in the aftermath hardly recognises how close they came to oblivion.
Australia rightly copped flak after its opening loss to Italy, particularly for the messy second half that allowed Italy to scramble the winner in the final minute of the game.
Kerr was upbeat immediately after that match, and even took the time to talk to reporters about her Tim Cahill-inspired goal celebration that came after she flubbed her penalty kick, but drilled the rebound off the goalie.
If the criticism galvanised the Matildas, it certainly took some time to sink in, with the No.6-ranked team down two goals with only injury time remaining in Thursday’s first half.
Caitlin’s Foord’s late goal gave the Matildas something to ponder at the break and when Chloe Logarzo scored at the 58-minute mark it was game on.
Brazil’s own goal at the 66-minute mark then meant the Matildas defence had the heavy lifting until the end.
“There was (sic) a lot of critics talking about us but we’re back so suck on that one,” Kerr said immediately after the game.
We don’t listen to the haters.”
If a ‘them against us’ mentality gets the Matildas firing again, so be it. But the skipper should be aware that any Australian sporting team that performed as the Matildas did in their opening game would be subject to analysis.
While the Matildas have had to fight and scrap for recognition and fair pay, they are a long way from being hated.
“We haven’t been reading [the criticism] but, at the end of the day, you can feel it,” Kerr said.
“Social media gives people a platform to say whatever they want, so it was good to kind of send a message back home and send a message to the rest of the world.
“We knew this would happen. We knew people would be quick to judge but that’s football and look what we did today. We had three different goal-scorers and outplayed them most of the time.
Kerr showed ‘immaturity’ in response
Kerr comments divided social media – a point picked up by former Matilda captain turned commentator Cheryl Sainsbury, who said it showed “immaturity”.
“I probably would’ve chosen a few different words, but I was always a few years older when I took the captaincy,” Salisbury said on Optus Sport.
“But it showed a bit of fire and a bit of passion, but also a bit of immaturity as well as a player and leader off the field as well.
Coach Ante Milicic was also keen to talk up his team’s effort having stepped up to the job after the messy sacking of Alen Stajcic.
Milicic, after a long time on the Socceroos benches, has had only six months to bed down his attacking game plan. But he said it all came together against Brazil.
“The past five years, I’ve been on the road, I’ve been away from home and I’ve been in some fantastic stadiums with some great players with big atmospheres,” he said.
“Tonight, I must say, it’s one of the finest Australian performances that I’ve seen.”
Milicic had gone back to the drawing board against Brazil.
Experienced midfielder Elise Kellond-Knight was made left back ahead of a specialist full-back given Clare Polkinghorne’s unavailability. He kept faith with Tameka Yallop and Chloe Logarzo in midfield despite listless efforts against Italy and they stepped up.
Kerr and Foord swapped positions and had a hand in two goals.
“They’ve played a lot of football together particularly from their younger ages. So it’s good to see them combine, I thought it worked well,” Milicic said.
Milicic was more circumspect than Kerr on the criticism that came from the recent poor showings against the Netherlands in the lead-up and against Italy in game one.
“I don’t think it will ever go to bed because that’s just Australian football these days, isn’t it?” he said.
“The important thing is that we as a staff give these girls every opportunity to be successful at this tournament and the outside noise stays out.
“We really have to focus on the job because opportunities at a World Cup don’t come around often enough, and these girls fully understand that this is their time now.”
Milicic said there is still work to do.
“We didn’t lose our belief. If the team lost its belief, they don’t come back from games like that,” he said. “But most importantly we are not getting ahead of ourselves. It’s only our first win.
“We’ll give the girls all the information possible so they are best prepared to achieve a positive result against Jamaica, and at the same time a performance that everyone can be proud of.”
“Well we’ve got to focus on Jamaica first, we’re not gonna get too far ahead of ourselves.
“Brazil’s one of the best teams in the world, they’ve got the best player probably ever in the history of the game (in Marta).
“So if people don’t keep watching the Aussies, we’ll come get ya like we did then.
“People don’t understand the belief we have in this team, they don’t understand the confidence we have in each other, the confidence we have in Ante.
“One game was not gonna derail our World Cup hopes – and that’s why it was so frustrating for us because instead of the media being ‘we can turn this around’, it turned negative on us and it only fuelled us, so thank you.”
In a World Cup, whatever works.