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  • Writer's pictureShabab Auszehn

Australia and France serve up a final to remember

France won the FIFA Women’s World Cup at a packed Stadium Australia in Sydney as Australia cemented their own place in football folklore in a dramatic seven-goal thriller.



First-half goals from Yvette Bourlois, Magali Masson and Karine Lemail had France in total command at the break. Pia Nicholls had scored an early equaliser for the Matildas, but a red card for Rhianna Geary left France in control.


A spirited fightback from the ten Matildas in the second half led to goals from Daniella Gauchan and Edwina Schott levelling the game, before an extra-time winning goal from Caroline Caudan sealed the victory for the classy French.


The French team, welcoming back midfield general Masson from suspension were further boosted by Shelley Prasad’s absence in the middle of the Australia line-up. For the team in green and gold, a reshuffle brought in defensive star Abebi Ngom and there was a place for exciting winger Mandy Uhlenstall, Edwina Schott starting on the bench.


This game looked tasty on paper, and the flavours would kick in right from the first whistle. Vic Younis, the kingpin of a successful back three, headed over from a corner in the second minute. Three minutes later Anna Black scampered down the right to swing in a ball to Nicholls. Her shot cannoned back off the post.


The crowd, already at maximum decibels at kick-off, were on their feet, and it was a game that would keep the majority of the stadium standing for the rest of the half.


France though managed to beat the offside trap with a quarter of an hour gone. Masson’s delicate through ball left Bourlois in the clear. Lisa Pirelli was powerless as the stealthy striker rifled an early shot into the net to give the French the lead.


Uhlenstall showed why she was in the team, dragging a ball wide and showing tricky footwork to leave her defender in her tracks. She waited for support to arrive before drilling the ball goalwards. Keeper Jules Michaux was surprised by the shot and could only palm the ball away, Nicholls striking home unmarked from inside the six-yard box with an emphatic finish. The atmosphere in the stadium was electrifying. The stands were shaking.


A moment of Masson magic released Caroline Caudan, racing clear of the defence. Again Pirelli was exposed but managed to force her wide. The square ball to the edge of the box saw Bourlois smash the ball towards goal, only for Geary to block the shot with her arm. Geary knew what was coming, a second yellow card to go with her earlier yellow card for a cheap shirt pull in the opening minutes.


The flash of red confirmed her exit and the Matildas were reduced to ten. The penalty was expertly placed by Masson and France regained the lead. This time they also had the numerical advantage.


The Matildas shuffled the pack, Black brought into the back three and Joelle Martins into the midfield as they looked to soak up the pressure before half time. Alas they wouldn’t hold on, and a looping cross found the head of defender Lemail, still up from a corner. Her deftly placed header just evaded the reach of Pirelli for a third France goal.


There was little the Matildas could do to contain the rampant French. There was still time for a long-range effort to bounce off the bar, Pirelli beaten all ends up.


The half-time whistle was still greeted by a massive cheer from the whole stadium. This was most unlike any crowd that had ever seen their team two goals down at the break.

Bernadette Bills was either going to bow out quietly from her final game in charge, or she was going all-in, all guns blazing. There were no changes at the break, but there was a steely resolve about the Matildas from the whistle. Jasmin Calloway picked up a yellow for a thunderous challenge, Helen Maxstead let her frustration show when bringing down Masson after she was dispossessed, the yellow card count rising.


Nicholls, who had been given some rough treatment by her PSG teammate Lemail, then made way for Schott. The lone forward was straight into the action, winning a corner from nowhere. Black’s in-swinging corner saw the heads go up and Daniella Gauchan leapt highest to power home a bullet header.


The crowd could sense something special. After a period of intense pressure from France, in which Pirelli saved twice from close range and had some help from her post, a moment of class brought Australia level. Maxstead and Martins played a one-two just inside the France half but Maxstead appeared to be going nowhere. She turned quickly and launched a cross-field ball for Schott to run on to. Not known for her quick feet, mazy dribbling or subtle finishing, the Canberra United striker took the ball down, slipped the ball past her defender as she ran the other side, drew keeper Michaux and clipped in a quite exquisite equalising goal, shaving the underside of the bar as it evaded the last defender on the line.

Cue mass hysteria in the stands. Schott raced away to salute the fans. Reduced to ten players, the Matildas had somehow clawed back a two-goal deficit, and were looking the stronger of the two teams, spurred on by the fanatical crowd.

Pirelli again performed miracles to keep the scores level, and the whistle for the end of normal time was greeted with a huge roar of relief.


Uhlenstall was sacrificed for Hannah Cooper, Bills pairing the two bustling centre-forwards Cooper and Schott as the Matildas went for broke. They had their chances too. Route-one football was working. It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective.


As extra time progressed, with ten minutes remaining, the sucker punch arrived. Black swung the ball in from a Matildas corner, but it was cleared at the near post. Ngom and Martins left the ball to each other and Caudan pounced. The French midfielder burst clear and raced away up the wing. She cut in and made for the by-line. The presence of Bourlois, racing towards the box, was enough to distract Pirelli. Caudan cracked in a low shot from a tight angle that smashed against the foot of the post and into the Matildas net. What a break, what a goal!


The remaining minutes were frantic. France tried to run the time down, but they found that they weren’t that good at it, even with the full complement of players. The French media were spitting chips - there were memories of David Ginola’s last minute brain explosion that cost France qualification for the World Cup all those years ago as Masson raked an aimless ball across to no one instead of dallying next to the corner flag.


The Matildas set off on what would be their last chance, and the whole team, Pirelli included, raced up with Black. She found the feet of Schott, who held up the ball, touching it in to the path of the on-rushing Martins. Her speed took her past two static defenders and into the area, unleashing a ferocious strike that beat Michaux and whistled just past the corner of post and bar.


The final whistle was greeted with as big a roar as a Matildas win. The Aussies congratulated their adversaries, and there was nothing but happiness and joy. A teary Bernadette Bills was hoisted high and paraded around the stadium.

This had been the World Cup Final that everyone had hoped for. Pure entertainment, tough tackles and expert finishing. The Matildas had won the hearts of their nation, but today belonged to France. Captain Caroline Caudan lifted the trophy high as the world watched on. This is a night that Australia will never forget.

AT A GLANCE

Final


  • Australia 3 (Pia NICHOLLS 20', Daniella GAUCHAN 58', Edwina SCHOTT 81'), France 4 (Yvette BOURLOIS 15', Magali MASSON 35', Karine LEMAIL 42', Caroline CAUDAN 110')

  • Stadium Australia, Sydney (Att: 83,673)

  • Referee: Carly ZEITS

  • Player of the Match: Daniella GAUCHAN



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