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  • Writer's pictureSammy Luiz

Advance Australia Fairy Tale

Patience was the key at the new Tasmania Stadium as the Matildas soared into the semi-finals of the FIFA Women’s World Cup after defeating Italy 3-0.

Goals from Daniella Gauchan and Mandy Uhlenstall in a dominant second-half performance added to Shelley Prasad’s first-half strike as the Matildas ran out easy winners.

For once, Pia Nicholls was the provider as Australia shared the goals around.

A heroic performance from Italy in their previous game and a day less to prepare was a significant disadvantage coming into this quarter final clash. Conditions though were perfect, a warm day giving way to a cool, dry and still evening at this fantastic new venue in Hobart.

The Italians, with goalkeeper Alessia Totino passing a late fitness test, were at full strength, while the Matildas had difficult choices to make, Abebi Ngom dropping to the bench after her star performance against Sweden. Gauchan was back in after suspension, and the exciting duo of Joelle Martins and superstar Nicholls were paired again up front.

The Matildas were simply outstanding in the first half an hour. The tough tackling of Vic Younis and Helen Maxstead kept the Italians at bay. Despite the dominance of the home team, Totino’s goal stood firm and the scoreline remained goalless.

It was in the 35th minute though that the Matildas took the lead, and it was a delightfully worked goal. Rhianna Geary and Jasmin Calloway combined to feed Martins who looked to jink past her defender as the crowd rose. Instead she rolled the ball back for Prasad who took a touch to steady herself and placed a perfect shot past the outstretched hand of the Italian keeper. The Stadium was shaking at that point, it really did feel like an earthquake.

Italy could have snatched an equaliser in first-half injury time, Pirelli having to back-pedal to push a shot over the bar after striker Maria Maolo had caused mayhem in the Matildas area. At the break though, Matildas were good value for their one goal lead.

There were no changes at half time from either team, although the sight of Tasmania’s own Hannah Cooper warming up with Ngom at the start of the second half was met with a big roar from the home crowd.

Italy threatened to gain the upper hand in the middle of the park. Coach Bernadette Bills soon shuffled the pack, moving Gauchan alongside Maxstead and sacrificing the somewhat quiet Calloway to bring Ngom into the left back role.

All of a sudden, the Azzurre were forced back. Anna Black raked a ball over to Uhlenstall on the left who controlled beautifully and sent a cross-field pass back to the right. Nicholls picked up the ball and ran at her player, before teeing up Gauchan to let fly with an unstoppable shot into the bottom right-hand corner of the net. That sent the crowd into raptures for a second time.

With Cooper on for Martins and the play camped in the Italy half, it was no surprise to see a third goal deep into the game. Black and Geary created space down the right, the two speedsters seemingly leaving the ball for each other. Black took command though, flicked the ball to Nicholls who raced into the box and crossed low for Uhlenstall to slide home at the far post.

She raced away to the corner flag, giving it the full Cahill treatment and saluting the packed stadium. Italy then compounded their issues with a sending off, Janet Poloski cynically chopping down Cooper as she threatened to break clean through, earning a straight red.

The Italian players took their defeat with pride. This was as good a tournament as their doubters had expected from this World Cup, and they had taken their big scalp in the previous round. Their fans applauded their efforts, while the Matildas players lapped up the praise from the huge crowd.

Coach Bills was quick to single out her defensive midfielders who put in a big shift today. She also praised Pia Nicholls for her patient hold-up play including two assists and suggested to reporters that there was much more to come from her squad in the semi-finals.

Australia will meet Brisbane later in the week for a semi-final against either the Netherlands or the USA. Hold on to your hats!


Quarter Final

  • Australia 3 (Shelley PRASAD 35', Daniella GAUCHAN 65', Mandy UHLENSTALL 87'), Italy 0

  • Tasmania Stadium, Hobart (Att: 47,826)

  • Referee: Melody BERMINO

  • Player of the Match: Daniella GAUCHAN


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