Matildas let slip two-goal lead as Brazil fight back in thrilling draw
When Australia’s women’s national team play football there is often a devil on the observer’s shoulder. It has one of those irritating invisible voices which warns, even when they are a goal or two up, that a disaster is never more than a couple of questionable choices away. This has been the soundtrack to the modern-day Matildas, a golden generation who either play out of their skins or do exactly the opposite. It is an on-field bipolarity akin to a Rachmaninov score – you think you’re in heaven and then all of a sudden you’re crying and can’t figure out why.
The inconsistencies and myriad variables in this team’s game date back to before the underwhelming 2019 World Cup and continued until after 2020’s almost Olympics bronze medal despite a mixed-bag tournament in Tokyo. Then there are the friendlies. Australia did not win a single one this year, and it would be cruel to regurgitate those scorelines. Until, that is, on Saturday, when they did win.
Even 3-1, though, was not enough to silence that vexatious voice when the first whistle blew on Tuesday night. After all, Brazil are a team rebuilding, and Australia’s diverting attack was offset by defensive issues which have become something of their signature. Add that the visiting manager, Pia Sundhage, had also yanked Marta and Debinha off the bench and into her starting XI. This could end very differently and in the fickle world of football bubbles get burst pretty quick.
Then it started, at first amid such chaos there simply was no room for doubt. Tamires broke free and Kerr returned the favour, but the Matildas were hammering the right flank like nobody’s business and Carpenter had her pockets full. Its contents – there were a few – chased as she eased in a cross to Caitlin Foord who, a metre from the goal, line fluffed her lines. But Australia as a whole had their eye in and some of the one-touch play was exquisite, with Kyra Cooney-Cross again the fulcrum and Emily van Egmond an outlet further upfield. Foord was in position again, this time at the back post and this time courtesy of Sam Kerr, and again she was thwarted but through no fault of her own – Letícia had it covered.
The next quickfire attack she did not when, after a goal-mouth scramble, Clare Polkinghorne popped up a volley off her left boot and appeared more surprised than anyone when when the ball sailed over the goalkeeper’s head and in the net. No sooner had the veteran high-tailed it down the other end to save a certain equaliser, the “Polkinghorne for prime minister” jaunt had already kicked off on social media. With a law degree and fine marshalling skills, attorney-general might be more appropriate.
Tony Gustavsson’s side were not slowing down. Were Brazil on the ropes? Is any opponent really on the ropes playing the Matildas? Ostensibly they were after the break when Carpenter slipped a short ball through Brazil’s defensive line and Kerr had scored before her boot even touched the ball, and before it scampered free across the face of goal settled into the far corner. It was her 49th international goal. One more and she will equal Tim Cahill’s all-time Australian record.
Then the voice started. Debinha had a crack and Adriana almost scored too when her shot ricocheted off the inside of Lydia Williams’s near post. Mary Fowler hit the post herself. But when Brazil earned a corner and Marta – wearing brilliant red lipstick – stepped up to the flag, it was a foregone conclusion in slow motion. Érika, surrounded by Kennedy, Foord and substitute Kyah Simon yet completely unmarked, had only to bow her head ever so slightly to pull back a goal and a foothold in the match.
The fans were helping their cause. At least a quarter of the 12,087-strong crowd at Commbank Stadium were vocal Brazil supporters and they were worshipping the ground on which Marta walked. The 35-year-old, after all, has been around since the earth was flat. Before women’s football existed in a globe and not some small subsection of the wider game. Had the VAR been in operation the six-time Fifa world player of the year may have further bloated her already-absurd scoring record before half-time when Tameka Yallop upturned her in the box.
As it happened, the Matildas would concede a second anyway seven minutes after the first. Breathlessly but almost prophetically, via a Tamires cross-cum-shot onto the bar. Debinha beat Kennedy and deposited the equaliser before hurtling into the post and crying in pain as her head made contact and medics rushed over. Williams, too, lay prone, but both were up shortly thereafter to finish this race to the finish line. This madcap dash to full-time that could have been anyone’s. And that is the point. The devil remains on the shoulder.