A disciplined Australian defensive unit denies the African Champions in a match of Nigerian unpredictability and frustration.
The match started off as intense affair with the Nigerians trying to overpower the Australians with their strength and speed, but the Matildas weathered the early onslaught and pressed, not allowing the Africans to gain any attacking rhythm.
Even though the Africans seemed to be winning most of the one v ones in the opening stages and the Matildas looked panicked into easy turnovers, when they did put a string of passes together they looked good.
Australia started to move the ball up the pitch with good combination play that at times left the Nigerian back-line looking disorganised, but used their athleticism and good first defender to spoil the Australian attack.
The Australians came close at the 26th minute mark after a delightful free kick from Elise Kellond-Knight to Samantha Kerr with only the keeper to beat, but she couldn’t get her foot to it and the volley went tantalisingly right of the post past the motionless Nigerian keeper Precious Dede.
As the intensity of the match started to slow, the combination play of the Australians started to shine and when Australian Captain Lisa De Vanna picked up the ball at the 30 metre mark, dribbled past one defender and drew another, you knew that something special was about to happen.
That something special came in the form of Kyrah Simon, who made an angled run from right to left, to run into the space provided by the absent defender to receive the ball from De Vanna and consequently chip it over the committed Nigerian keeper.
After the goal the Australians seemed to lose concentration for a moment and it seemed like the Nigerians were taking the ascendency, but against the run of play Caitlin Foord set up Simon centrally once again on the edge of the box, but she failed to shoot first time allowing the defender to block the shot.
The ricochet landed at the feet of a waiting De Vanna to the left, but her consequential volley went wide of the post and once again the Nigerian defense were let off.
What these attempts did do was highlight the weaknesses in the Nigerian backline and the Matildas seemed to gain confidence from this.
Number one goalkeeper for Australia Lydia Williams wasn’t really tested until a pass back put her under pressure from one of the Nigerian forwards, but she dived to the feet of the attacker to take control of the fifty-fifty ball.
In the second half, the Nigerians came out with the vigour that they had displayed against Sweden and the Australians put themselves under pressure by not winning the second ball and giving away possession far too easily.
At the 66th minute a floating free kick from Emily Van Egmond once again found Kerr free in front of the keeper, but once again she couldn’t get foot to ball and the clincher went begging.
Even though the Nigerians seemed to have something left in the tank, the Matildas did a good job slowing the play and the defense looked like holding, until African star Asisat Oshoala came close to slotting one in at the far post, but she missed timed her run and the Matildas were let off of the hook.
With time winding down it was all the Nigerians and the ball very rarely left the Matildas half until a throw in 10 metres from the African’s bi-line found substitute Tameka Butt who turned and crossed across the face of goal. The ball went through four defenders to find Kerr at the far corner who chipped it in to an unmarked Kyah Simon to score once again in the 68th minute.
With time running out the Nigerians, spurred on by their coach, started to get frustrated and a cheap elbow to the face of Sam Kerr off the ball, stopped play much to the disgust of captain Lisa De Vanna who had timely words with the referee.
At 81 minutes the Australians could have gone 1 more up, but an unlucky Laura Allerway hit the crossbar off a well -timed near post run.
“It was a tough game; a tough battle out there in the heat. Both sides had plenty of good attacks and today we were the more clinical side,” said Australian coach Alen Stajcic.
By Paul Brown