Updated: Jan 1, 2020
Australia entered the World Cup and were seen as a team that should go far.
With Sam Kerr having two record seasons in the NWSL, she is without a doubt the best player on the team. She was called into action early on in the opening match against Italy, scoring her PK goal of this tournament in the 22nd minute and giving the Matildas a 1-0 lead in the first half.
This would turn out to be for naught as Barbara Bonansea would stun an entire nation and score twice in the 50th minute and in the dying seconds of stoppage time to give Italy their first victory and Australia their first defeat of the group stage. It’s fair to say not a lot of people were expecting Italy to win and questions were asked about the defense.
These questions would continue well into the second match against Brazil as Australia saw themselves go down 2-0 in the first half. Caitlin Foord would score in stoppage, breathing new life in the team as they completed what can only be described as an epic come back, becoming one of the few teams to ever come back from behind and win a world cup game. Brazil’s collapse notwithstanding, the Australians still didn’t look as confident as everyone had expected them to.
They were able to easily dispatch Jamaica in their final group stage match, with Kerr taking front and center in the spotlight, scoring four goals against the Reggae Girlz, a personal best for the youngster.
With this resounding victory, have the Aussies solved their defense problems to take on a red-hot Norway? The answer to that question might have been “yes” before it was reported yesterday evening that defender Steph Catley suffered an injury in the game against Jamaica.
Australia might be back to square one, with Gema Simon, Clare Polkinghorne, Karly Roestbakken and Teigan Allen on the bench. The best bet seems to be Polkinghorne and Roestbakken, who both played the first and third game, to get the start. However, we could see Simon with her first start of the tournament as she is the regular stand-in for Catley. The Aussies will have had forty-eight hours to figure out how to anchor their backline without Catley.
Norway came into this tournament accompanied by a ghost. The glaring absence of superstar Ada Hegerberg was all anyone could and would talk about, instead of the team itself that rose from the ashes of a disastrous 2017 Euro to claim a comfortable spot in Group A.
A lot of people appeared to wonder how Norway would fare without Hegerberg, a question The Grasshoppers had no problem answering. An explosive team performance saw them emphatically beat Nigeria 3-0 and sending a message: they have everyone they need to win. This mentality would face an early test against a white-hot French team. After keeping Les Bleues at bay all first half, the Norwegians would give up two goals in the second half, with a gift of a howler from Wendie Renard to put them on board. Despite their best efforts, they would fall 2-1 to France. Not allowing themselves to dwell on the defeat, Norway would face South Korea in their final group stage match and get back to their winning ways with a 2-1 victory.
Finishing second in Group A has pitted this fierce Norway squad against Australia, both with something to prove. Norway didn’t give up a lot of goals and the ones they did came off of set pieces and PKs. As a defensive team, they’re very good at frustrating their opponents and disrupting the passing lines. Their offense is capable of scoring, both in the run of play and on the counter. If they can keep Sam Kerr contained, stay patient, stick to their game plan and strike on the counter, they have a good chance of eliminating Australia from the World Cup.