The Matildas go into Sunday morning’s World Cup round of 16 clash knowing that a slip up against Norway in Nice would brand them as under-performers.
Australia is ranked No.6 in the world and Norway is No.12, with both finishing second in their group, the Matildas behind the surprise packets Italy and Norway behind the hosts France.
Sam Kerr’s ‘them against us’ rhetoric in the immediate aftermath of the comeback against Brazil has certainly been backed up by the skipper, who snagged four goals in the 4-1 defeat of Jamaica, but that match also offered some food for thought.
Not only did Australia become the first team to concede a goal to Jamaica at the World Cup, it also came from the sort of defensive lapse that was so heavily criticised in the wake of the loss to Italy.
Norway will punish any similar defensive lapses, while Australia is still heavily reliant on Kerr’s heroics to snag the winners.
“Although Sam did an incredible job scoring the amount of goals that she did, for us, it wasn’t our greatest performance,” midfield general Chloe Logarzo conceded on Friday.
“It was not the way we really want to play or the potential that we can play to. So for us, it’s just about moving on to Norway and making sure that we are clinical.”
Norway coach Martin Sjogren says the Matildas are a “very good team” but their leaky defence had been noticed.
“They are maybe not so strong in their defence,” he said. “They score a lot but they also let in quite a few goals. So I think we have a good plan on how we are going to handle this match tomorrow.”
Interestingly, Matildas coach Ante Milicic said that was “a fair summary”.
“That’s why we keep working on our attacking style,” he said.
“The best way to defend (is) by keeping the ball longer and having more possession than the opposition.
“We obviously know there’s a few areas we need to tidy up – in particular when we do have the ball in the transition phase, we have to be smarter with it.
“We’ll continue to be brave and play our way of football.”
The Matildas lead the competition for crosses and have scored a string of goals from crossed or lofted balls.
“Australia is a very offensive playing team, they have good players and strong players,” Sjogren said. “They have been changing a bit since last time. They are more direct now.
“We have huge respect for how they play. But we have also a very good belief in our own defence.”
The Matildas enter the last 16 in France with the best goalscoring record except for the world No.1 USA, and Kerr believes there’s plenty of sparkle still to come.
“We are a never say die team,” she told the media on Friday. “It’s been our goal to get to the semi-final and we believe we can do it.”
Teammate Ellie Carpenter agreed.
“We’ve spoken about it a lot, in camp and for the last four years. This is where we want to be going and we’re on the right track now,” Carpenter said. “So we have to prepare well and put everything out.”
Much depends on Logarzo’s showing after lifting Australia in the tournament-saving comeback against Brazil.
She also scored in the Matildas’ last meeting with Norway: a 4-3 thriller won with a 95th minute goal by Larissa Crummer.
Logarzo confirmed there had been a focus on controlling the tempo of the game against Norway.
“The tempo that we brought to the game against Brazil was up here and how we played against Jamaica was down here,” she said.
“When we have more time and space on the ball, we end up slowing down the tempo which shouldn’t happen.
“(We need to) mix the two games together and and meet at a happy medium.”
AUSTRALIA v NORWAY
Allianz Riviera, Nice
TV: SBS, Sunday June 23, 4.30am (AEST)