In the end, the brilliant boot of Sam Kerr that got Australia to the Round of 16 also marked the end of the Matildas World Cup dream.
After riding their luck throughout in the match against Norway, the Matildas were ultimately fortunate to find themselves in a penalty shootout and hopes were high for a good result as Kerr stepped up to take the first spot kick.
Australia had again come from behind, and then also defended grimly with one-less player after Alanna Kennedy was red-carded for tugging on her opponents shirt.
But after the nerve-wracking final minutes of extra-time, Kerr’s big moment was a fizzer. Her penalty kick went high and wide and from there Australia’s resistance crumbled – eventually going down 4-1 on penalties after scores had been locked at 1-1.
“What can you do?” she said.
“I’ve been trusted to take it and I was confident in taking it and I just skewed it.
“The girls have already gotten around me. I feel like I let the team down but they’ve been quick to cut that out.
“I’ll grow from this and become a stronger person mentally.”
Norway had looked more dangerous throughout, with an Australian defensive lapse in the 31st minute letting Isabell Herlovsen in to score.
It was only a brilliant Elise Kellond-Knight corner in the 83rd minute that dragged Australia back into the match, the ball sneaking through a sea of arms, legs and heads with less than ten minutes to play.
For Kerr it was a bitter end to a controversial tournament for the Matildas.
“It is disappointing to lose on penalties but you become stronger as players and as a team, so I feel like we have let some people down, but we will be stronger from it,” said Kerr on SBS.
“Just most proud of the team, lots of the girls have put in so much sacrifice to be here. We have stuck together through thick and thin.
It has been a bit of a roller-coaster ride but to see how the team has stuck together … we are grateful for all of the support we have had.
Matilda’s coach Ante Milicic was also circumspect, having taken on the team in difficult times.
“In the end it became an open game and we both had our chances and when we lost a player it became difficult but it was an even game, and in the end we are disappointed with the result,” he said.
“I’m proud of the girls, they never gave up and they kept on fighting. They did things the hard way and in the end we just could not climb the final hurdle.”
Australia had made a bright start to its Round of 16 match in Nice, with skipper Kerr getting a shot on goal within the first minute and Caitlin Foord’s crisp passing setting up Hayley Raso for another shot.
But as the game wore on World No.12s Norway exerted defensive control, not allowing the No.6 ranked Matildas to open up behind.
As the frustration built an Australian attack turned ugly when Norway rebounded, with a brilliant pass from Karina Seavik catching Steph Catley a step behind Isabell Herlovsen.
Herlovsen slammed home the goal and Australia were suddenly in crisis mode.
Norway continued to look the more dangerous team as it attacked in the next ten minutes, but Australia was awarded a penalty at the 42 minute mark when referee Riem Hussein ruled handball on Norway’s Maria Thorisdottir.
The penalty was not clear, with Thorisdottir making contact with her upper arm or shoulder while dipping her body. Referred to VAR, the referee watched the incident several times and eventually rescinded the decision.
In the second half Australia was again unlucky at 59 minutes when a deflected shot that resulted in a corner appeared to show a handball in the box.
Soon after Sam Kerr found the back of the net after a strong run to find space, but she was deemed offside.
Just as the pace was coming off the game, Australia struck from the corner.
Norway hit the post at the 93rd minute and at 1-1 the game headed to extra time.
The first period of extra time saw Norway with several strong chances, with Australian goalkeeper Lydia Williams’ heroics saving several on target Norway shots.
At 103 minutes Alana Kennedy was red carded when she was deemed to have impeded a Norway run, leaving Australia down a player for the last period of extra time.
Norway attacked throughout and were unlucky not to score, but Australia defended grimly to hold on for the penalty shootout.
Within minutes though, the World Cup rollercoaster ride was over.
Kerr missed and then Emily Gielnik followed suit.
Australia looked emotionally cooked – it was time to go home.