Australia 2 Iran 0 – Olympic Games Qualifying Round 2
The Matildas knew what they had to do against Iran after Chinese Taipei had almost given the Philippines a heart attack in the earlier game. With only the top team going through from this group, any slip up would be punished, and the starting line-up for Australia suggested a conservative approach with no recognised strikers named in the eleven.
The game was only ten minutes old and we’d already seen Cortnee Vine plunder down the right only for her crosses to be wasted. Ellie Carpenter played on after a throw-in was awarded and the referee let it go, reminding us of the level we were playing at. The conditions were slippery, Tameka Yallop going down from a sniper’s bullet, but the way Afsaneh Chatrenoor crumpled under a non-challenge, she may have forgotten her boots altogether. The Matildas Active crew were in full voice in the Shed, replicating the atmosphere of a Perth Glory home game, and the youthful voices in the crowd were giving this game a wonderful atmosphere. The Iran fans were vocal, and there were loud and persistent shouts of Iran, Iran throughout the first half.
Incredibly, Iran had the first chance of the game, a dynamic raid down the right, ignited by the roar of the Iran fans, ending with a weak shot, but it was the Matildas who came up with the opening goal just before the 20-minute mark; Cortnee Vine raced into the box and lifted a delicate ball in, Charli Grant kept a cool head to set up Ellie Carpenter for a low finish to Zahra Khajavi’s right and the Matildas had a deserved lead.
Clare Wheeler and Courtney Nevin took it in turns with the corners, neither enjoying much luck with the delivery, but this was one-way traffic and a matter of time before Australia scored again. Grant went close with a low shot, Emily Van Egmond and Clare Wheeler picked out through balls with precision but with no end result and a half time score of 1-0 to Australia was about right, the four minutes of time added on very short, given the play-acting and consistent rolling around of the Iran players. The whistle sounded with Grant wowing the crowd with a samba shimmy, but her cross led to nothing, the 82% possession enjoyed by the Matildas not reflected in the scoreline.
Alannah Kennedy announced herself on the scene as the second half got underway with a strike from distance that was flapped away for a corner. Whilst the corner was ultimately wasted, it signalled the intent of coach Tony Gustavsson. This was a game of frustration that would need to be managed correctly. Grant’s speculator following another corner had the fans on the far side of the field thinking the ball was in. Wheeler weaved into the area, beating three and her shot was deflected wide for a corner, before Iran threatened again, but their rare forays into the area yielded no end result.
Tameka Yallop battled well, Chidiac hit a low shot that woke up the fans, but all the crowd wanted was a glimpse of Sam Kerr. Iran continued to make substitutions despite the player down not being the player going off, and the crowd clapped as one as the Iran players received treatment. The sight of Mary Fowler, Steph Catley and Kerr warming up and ultimately coming on for Australia preceded the best chance of the game for Iran, Negin Zandi racing away but firing wide under pressure. Grant, Yallop and Chidiac could feel aggrieved to be the ones making way at a Matildas corner, but the roar was intense and the fans had what they wanted. Catley’s first touch was the corner and Australia almost scored. The corner count continued to rise, and so did the tempers in the box as first goalkeeper Khajavi and then Zandi, given the difficult task of quelling Kennedy from set pieces, hit the deck in comedy fashion.
Grant reprised her World Cup role of bench poster girl, smiling her way through the reminder of the game on the big screen as the Iran players continued to drop like flies. Fowler had made a difference, but Iran had adopted Middle Eastern game management 1.01 and Australia’s flowing play was interrupted by numerous breaks in play. The second goal came from a piece of magic down the left, Fowler tucking a pass in for Catley to run on to and her exquisite ball across the face of the goal was perfect for fellow sub Kerr to lash home at the far post.
The near-capacity crowd of 18,798 was at full volume as the Matildas piled on the pressure, Fowler in superb form, and Kyra Cooney-Cross appeared in the last ten minutes to underline the difference in depth of the two teams. The Iranian medical team received the biggest cheer of the night, racing on for the umpteenth time to treat another player who had tumbled to the turf. By now the Mexican wave had taken over the stadium, and the football played second fiddle, but Catley raced down the left and teed up Carpenter who shot just past the post. The eleven minutes of stoppage time at the end reflected the amount of time Iran had spent on the floor, and that gave us the opportunity to see more sublime football from Australia, Mary Fowler’s pass to Sam Kerr not matched with a finish, and Kennedy’s free header from a Catley corner somehow going wide of the target. The game ended with the fans in full voice, young kids cheering on their heroes, the active fans drumming their way to full time and Sam Kerr sending another header wide.
The Matildas had achieved their goal tonight of getting off to a winning start, Iran had perhaps achieved their goal of keeping the score to a minimum and the young fans got their post-match love from the players as Perth revelled in the post-World Cup glow. Bring on Sunday night and the big one against the Philippines.