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  • Writer's pictureShabab Auszehn

Matildas fiesta as qualification assured

The World Cup’s two form strikers were on show as Australia booked their place in the last sixteen in an exciting game against Spain at Stadium Australia in Sydney.

Paris St Germain star Pia Nicholls stole the show with a two-goal display in a ruthless performance, but the Spanish battled well to snatch a late point. Two goals from the tournament’s top scorer Emilia Cabrera saw the game end in a 2-2 draw.

Coach Bernadette Bills praised both sets of players for delivering a top-class spectacle, and the second-half appearance of debutant Mandy Uhlenstall gave her plenty of options going into the knockout stages of the World Cup.

La Roja had started their campaign slowly with only a draw against Scotland, but looked strong in brushing aside Colombia. They boasted firepower in Barcelona star Cabrera, who had notched both goals against the Colombians, and their midfield was laden with stars of the European game.

The unfortunate Michaela Stewart made way for Anna Black to return to the Matildas starting line-up and there was also a return for Edwina Schott up front.

Quite how the Spanish keeper Leana Delgado kept out Schott’s close-range strike on five minutes remains a mystery, the ball diverted around the post with a strong hand from point-blank range. Australia were attacking freely – Shelley Prasad fired wide when well placed, then a Nicholls shot hit Jasmin Calloway and flashed over the bar.

Vic Younis powered a header just over from a dangerous corner and Nicholls again saw her shot saved by the impressive Delgado.

It was definitely not one-way traffic. Spain launched a searing counter attack after clearing a corner, four red shirts against two green and gold defenders; the sumptuous low cross saw Cabrera race unhindered into the box and pick her spot, lashing the ball in off the bar to finish a wonderful flowing move.

A free kick from Helen Maxstead was then pushed away, Joelle Martins blazing over on the follow up. The half-time score was tough on the Matildas, but they had created the most chances.

Schott was replaced by Melbourne City’s Uhlenstall at the break, pushing Martins into attack with Nicholls. Uhlenstall was immediately involved, her cross flicked on at the near post by Nicholls. The incoming Prasad reacted first at the far post and headed the ball back into the mix where Nicholls had stayed alert and rifled the ball home with a low shot.

This was a perfect start to the second forty-five, gaps were appearing between defence and midfield in the Spanish team. A flurry of yellow cards saw the Australian team walk a dangerous line, Daniella Gauchan ruled out of the last sixteen clash with her second yellow of the tournament.

Gauchan floated a beautiful ball over the last defender to set Nicholls away. She had a lot of ground to cover before jinking past Delgado and rolling the ball into the unguarded net to give the Matildas a 2-1 lead. She raced to the Australian fans to celebrate.

Black found herself free at the far post but the defender got the slightest touch to Uhlenstall’s stinging cross and the ball skimmed past her outstretched foot to safety. That could have wrapped things up.

Instead, with seven minutes remaining, a long cross-field ball was taken down by Sophia Alves and half-volleyed to the far post where Cabrera rose under the heavy presence of Younis and cushioned a beautiful header beyond Lisa Pirelli’s grasp.

Calloway unleashed a terrific effort from thirty yards which banged off the post as the game reached its climax. Nicholls had a half-chance for a hat-trick but this time shot weakly.

Spain finished the game on the attack, forcing a series of corners that were comfortably dealt with by Pirelli and her back line. The final whistle was greeted by a standing ovation for both sets of players. This was truly a World Cup classic, and both teams were content with the outcome.

Coach Bills heaped praise on Rhianna Geary for handling such a difficult marking job on Cabrera. Australia must now wait to see the results in all the groups to work out who they will play in the round of sixteen.


Group stage, Game 3

  • Spain 2 (Emilia CABRERA 32', 83'), Australia 2 (Pia NICHOLLS 49', 72')

  • Stadium Australia, Sydney (Att: 83,502)

  • Referee: Dagmar HLAVAK

  • Player of the Match: Joelle MARTINS


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