Sam Kerr needs better service. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)
Sam Kerr needs better service. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)

Matildas slammed: ‘Absolutely ridiculous’

THE Matildas won't be hurried into rethinking their World Cup plans despite a "disastrous" opening loss to Italy.

Ante Milicic's side were humbled 2-1 in Valenciennes on Sunday night by a team making their World Cup return after a 20-year break.

Much of the outing wasn't pretty.

The high defensive line employed by Milicic nearly cost Australia dearly, with two Italy goals on the counter ruled out by marginal off-side calls. Emily van Egmond was again error-strewn in possession, while the much-vaunted Matildas front line is yet to gel.

Within minutes of the final whistle, brickbats flew at the team, and particularly Milicic.

Matildas legend Heather Garriock, who played at three World Cups and is now Canberra United coach, labelled the match "disastrous".

"I'm so upset. More for the style in which we played the second half … this high line is absolutely ridiculous," she said on Optus Sport. "If you think as a coach you can come in and change your philosophy, and change the style within five matches. We have just been crucified, not once but twice.

"If we had a better side playing against us tonight it would have been more than five. I'm so disappointed."

Milicic wore a heavy face as he came to grips with the result, conceding his side played within themselves.

"When we played our football we looked decent, but it was only in patches," he said.

"We need to be a little bit more brave and composed on the ball."

"We need to have a better understanding when to drop and when to stay high, and the position of the goalkeeper."

Italy kept Sam Kerr under wraps. (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)
Italy kept Sam Kerr under wraps. (Photo by Pier Marco Tacca/Getty Images)

Forward Caitlin Foord suggested the Matildas, who have enjoyed Milicic's tactical tweaks since he took over in February, weren't for turning. "No World Cup is won on the first game," she said. "There's a lot of positives to take.

"We're here to play our style of football … we believe that win will us the World Cup so we'll keep doing that."

The former Socceroos assistant coach defended Clare Polkinghorne's calamitous error of turning over the ball without any pressure to allow Italy to equalise. "Clare is brave to do that. We are not going to change our style because we have conceded a goal," Milicic said.

"I will always believe in that style, that's the style we want to progress up the field, we just need to get better at it and better at it quickly."

Australia now head south to Montpellier, where they face Brazil, who thrashed Jamaica 3-0 on Sunday.

 

KERR'S SHOUTOUT TO TIMMY

She didn't celebrate at the end of the match but Australia captain Sam Kerr saluted one of her football idols after breaking her Women's World Cup duck.

Kerr scored the Matildas' goal, netting the game's opener on the 22nd minute.

After tucking away a rebound from her own saved penalty, Kerr ran to the corner and punched the flag like another Australian goalscorer of years gone by. "The legend, Timmy Cahill lives on," she said.

"My first ever (World Cup) goal and he's our greatest-ever goalscorer.

"Just a bit of fun and a shoutout to Timmy … Timmy's a legend. He's one of my idols.

"I thought he probably should have got on at the last World Cup and scored so that one was for him."

 

COMMENTATOR SLAMS 'NETBALL OFFICIATING'

Barbara Bonansea had the last laugh in Valenciennes, scoring in the 56th and 95th minutes to win the match for Italy.

A-League commentator Brenton Speed was critical of the refereeing in the lead up to the winner, labelling it "netball officiating". "The foul which led to winner was 'contact goal defence' but not a football foul," Speed tweeted. "And there was too much of that kind of stuff throughout."

Barbara Bonansea was the hero for Italy. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)
Barbara Bonansea was the hero for Italy. (Photo by TF-Images/Getty Images)

Bonansea unveiled her own celebration - a thumb-suck, echoing the last time Italy beat Australia at a World Cup in the 2006 men's tournament.

Back then Francesco Totti netted a penalty at the exact same point - the fifth minute of injury time - to send the Socceroos out of the round of 16. At least in France, the Matildas are still alive.

"We've still got two more games to get out of the group," Kerr said. "We just lost in the last moment but I think we dominated the game. We feel really confident still. There's a lot of positives. We'll stick together and go on to Brazil."

Kerr's confidence rests on Australia's dominance in their first match. At times, the Matildas were confident and vibrant in their forward play, ably supported by fullbacks Ellie Carpenter and Steph Catley.

Australia starved Italy of possession and took 16 shots to their opponents' three. Kerr's belief is also supported by history.

In Australia's six previous outings at the World Cup, the Matildas have just one opening-match win - yet they've reached the quarter-finals three times.

In 2015, they were soundly beaten by eventual winners USA 3-1, before bouncing back to defeat Nigeria 2-0 in their next match.

Coach Ante Milicic referred to their tricky path out of the group as "the Australian way".

"(Ante) thinks it's going to be the hard way? Yeah, it is," Kerr said. "But we did this last World Cup and got through and we are still so confident that we'll get through."


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