“And Sam also spoke about that: ‘Don’t freak out. Don’t stress out. Believe in the plan, believe in the process, believe [your] teammates. But we need to do it better.’
“She has grown with her leadership. Sam is an emotional player, and she has gotten much better at the emotional control, when it needs to be controlled, to say the right things. She can be the passion and the heart of the team when need be, and drive people, demand, and be that voice. She can also be composed and distant and be very clear in her instructions.”
Hayley Raso also grabbed a brace to spearhead that second-half onslaught from the Matildas, who were cheered home by 7702 fans at Industree Group Stadium.
To be fair to Gustavsson, most fans would happily endure another dreary 45 minutes if it would guarantee them a 4-0 win over the Irish – and at a World Cup, results are all that matter. Plus, this one came with a rare clean sheet, their third in a row.
That said, the absence of attacking imagination early on from the Matildas was problematic – and the gulf in class between them and their next opponents Spain, who moved the ball beautifully in their 3-0 win over Jamaica earlier on Thursday, was crystal clear. And that was Spain’s B team.
Ranked No.28 in the world by FIFA, Czechia failed to qualify for the World Cup but aren’t exactly mugs, having held world champions United States to a draw last year, and so in that light, this wasn’t bad at all. Yet if Australia are to challenge for the sport’s biggest prize, they simply have to play better football.
Granted, there were some late arrivals from Europe in camp this week, and as Gustavsson pointed out pre-match, more than half of his squad for the Cup of Nations has played little to no football in the last few months. The lack of rhythm and imagination was obvious.
Czechia actually generated the three best chances of the first half – and while all were saved by Mackenzie Arnold, who got the nod at goalkeeper ahead of Lydia Williams, the way they were given up was worrying.
Raso finally broke the deadlock three minutes into the second stanza after receiving a brilliant pass from Kerr and finding the near post via a deflection off Czech custodian Olivie Lukasova.
She then scored her second in the 55th minute from a corner kick, bundling debutant Clare Hunt’s header across goal over the line to effectively take the sting out of the Czech resistance.
Kerr then made it three with 20 minutes to go with a powerful finish after Alex Chidiac’s blocked shot fell neatly for her, while Polkinghorne rounded it out by poking home from another corner in the 84th minute.
The turnaround was impressive, but more will be needed from the Matildas as they switch their attention to Sunday’s showdown with Spain in Sydney, which looms as a much sterner test of their credentials.
“We need to be much better,” Gustavsson said. “If we give away that type of space when we lose the ball to Spain … it’s going to be a completely different challenge.”
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