Philippines 0 Australia 8
Swathes of empty seats at kick off at Optus Stadium were testament to the conflicting reports of a maximum attendance in the key Olympic qualifying clash between the Matildas and the Philippines on Sunday, or more likely were down to the Australian sporting public’s insistence on arriving to major events bang on kick off. An absolutely picture-perfect afternoon, black clouds looming but bright sunshine, had this monolithic stadium sparkling, and the Matildas started the game in offensive mode, Mary Fowler getting in on the left to flick in a near post cross and Sarina Bolden fortunate that VAR was not in operation when the ball skimmed her arm from a searching cross.
The wasteful crossing from the Matildas suggested that running at the defence might be more fruitful and Caitlin Foord was more than happy to oblige, but the Philippines reminded the big crowd that it would not be all Australia when Bolden almost got her foot to a curling cross. The Matildas did take the lead on the quarter-hour, and it was a beautiful move, Ellie Carpenter pulling the ball back for Sam Kerr who either got lucky or showed incredibly intuition to flick the ball for Fowler to drill an unconventional shot in via the far post. The scoring continued four minutes later when Foord danced past her marker on the left and headed for the box, squaring the ball for Kerr to fire low past Olivia McDaniel.
The stadium by now was almost full, only seats reserved for fans for the second game in the double-header still empty, while the Matildas Active fans, who had relocated further back to get a better view, were a sea of green and gold, the drum running throughout the first half to accompany the flowing rhythm of the football.
The crowd was again on its feet ten minutes later to salute another brilliant goal – Mary Fowler teased on the edge of the area on the left, her cross picked out Sam Kerr, whose level of relaxation was such that she opted to lay the ball in to Foord, who had stayed onside, and Foord easily beat McDaniel to take the score to 3-0. The crowd had only just abated from that stunning goal, when Hayley Raso ran through the centre of the Philippines defence to feed Foord. She still had work to do, but muscled her way through to fire past McDaniel for her second goal and Australia’s fourth.
Moments later it could have been a hat-trick for Foord as she was played in by Fowler. She managed to get around the goalkeeper, who had closed the space well, but the audacious chip went past the far post with no one there to tap it in. The approach to half-time was a display of attacking football from the Matildas, this was no procession, and the only surprise was that the score remained 4-0 until the final attack before the break, Kerr racing clear onto an exquisite ball from Foord to smash the ball home emphatically. She turned to punch the air in front of her home crowd as everyone held year breath for an offside flag, but there was no chance that the play was coming back to be checked. The half-time whistle was met with a huge roar, Australia having put any worries to bed in an incredible first half – this full-strength Matildas team had played like the superstars they undoubtedly are.
An incredible start to the second half saw Fowler dash down the left to cut inside and deliver the perfect cross for the incoming Kerr to smash a header into the net to make it 6-0. There was no respite for the team in blue, who had made a double change at the break, and aside for some wayward passing as the Matildas tried to work out a way past the defensive block, this was one-way traffic. Clare Hunt met a cross to head just over and perhaps should have scored. Ten minutes without a goal seemed like an eternity as the Matildas continued to press for more goals, and when Foord found herself in the area in possession as a mesmerising Fowler attack seemed to break down, she simply outstripped her defender with a swift turn and smashed the ball in from an acute angle to take the scoreline to 7-0. Three goals for Sam Kerr, three goals for Caitlin Foord, this was a dream performance of attacking power from this exciting Australia team.
Bolden almost picked Hunt’s pocket, her chip from distance finding Mackenzie Arnold’s gloves instead of the back of the net. Further substitutions for the Philippines failed to stem the tide, and Gustavsson went to his bench when a lull in proceedings saw the Matildas lose concentration. A quadruple substitution saw four heavyweights replaced by four more, Cortnee Vine so close to connecting at the far post with her first touch. The verve and intent was back for the home team, and with Clare Wheeler now pulling the strings and Amy Sayer offering something different up front, the domination would continue, albeit without the same ruthless precision. When Carpenter raced down the right but opted to cut back, the opportunity looked to be gone, but Foord tucked the ball into Wheeler’s path and she made space to smash a long-range screamer past McDaniel for 8-0. What a way to score your first goal for the national team.
There were still 15 minutes remaining and Vine had already departed with an injury, crowd favourite Alex Chidiac coming on to add her fighting spirit to what could have been a procession towards the final whistle. The intensity was waning though as Chidiac was upended in the box, and the referee saved the Philippines when Amy Sayer was adjudged to have bundled into goalkeeper McDaniel. Hunt again headed over from a corner when perhaps she could have scored, and Sayer should have done better from Catley’s cross from the left as we approached added time. Emily Van Egmond passed up a chance to fire in a shot from a great position in front, trying to set up Sayer instead, and a continuous string of attacks was curtailed by the Indian referee’s final whistle.
This had been a thoroughly entertaining contest, Australia flexing their muscles and putting the Philippines to the sword. Their passage to the final round of Olympic Games qualifying for Paris 2024 had been all but assured, and they showed a cutting edge that we have rarely seen. Twelve shots on target to eight goals is an incredible conversion rate, and the crowd of 59,155 left with a spring in their step having seen two hat-tricks and a very clinical Matildas strike-force. The home players walked around the stadium to take in the adulation of the bumper crowd, while the Philippines players lined up in front of their fans to thank them for their unwavering support. Everything is good in women’s football in Australia right now, time to complete the job on Wednesday night against Chinese Taipei. See you there!