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  • Writer's pictureShabab Auszehn

They've only gone and bloody done it!

A fantastic goalkeeping display in a do-or-die penalty shoot-out decided this battle royale between Australia and the USA, at the seat of many a sporting triumph, Brisbane Stadium. Lisa Pirelli wrote her name into history by saving two penalties to put her country into their first World Cup final.

Meka Starwood’s first-half volley for the USA was cancelled out by a second-half strike from Jasmin Calloway for Australia.

Alex Rufort and Nola Hollin were both denied in the penalty shoot-out after extra time had failed to separate the two teams, the Matildas triumphing 4-1.

Both teams came into this one with good wins, USA having dispensed of a quality Netherlands side and the Matildas brushing away Italy in the quarter-finals.

The Matildas brought in Edwina Schott for Mandy Uhlenstall, sacrificing flair for brute strength, otherwise they were unchanged from their previous game.

The US team were unchanged, Hollin bringing up her half century of caps alongside superstar striker Starwood. Continuity had always been their strength in major tournaments and there was expectation back in the States for another World Cup final appearance.

The US team came out of the blocks fast. The Matildas defence was under siege, Pirelli busy with crosses and having two long distance range-finders to deal with.

Australia, to their credit, remained patient. They were calm in defence, even after the opening goal came and threatened to derail them.

Hollin played a superb ball behind Daniella Gauchan, Vic Younis was pulled across to cover but couldn’t stop the cross. Keira Leeuwin chested the ball down under pressure for the unmarked Starwood to volley home. It was a goal of such simplicity and ruthless execution.

The long ball to Schott was the only outlet for the Matildas, the wide players busy dealing with wave after wave of US attacks. Schott did manage to flick the ball on for fellow striker Pia Nicholls on 30 minutes. Her shot was fierce, but pushed away instinctively by keeper Ally Bowers. That ignited the capacity crowd, and Australia finished the half with a good period of possession.

Coach Bernadette Bills would have her work cut out to turn this one around. As long as it remained at 1-0 though, they always had a chance. The US team had obviously received a rocket at the break and again started on the offensive.

Leeuwin went close with a run and shot, Carrie Fontana rose to plant a header against the post from a corner and Pirelli saved at close range from the follow up, reacting smartly to deflect the ball away. The crowd were playing their part, roaring at every save and tackle.

The Australia defence was left completely exposed as the game entered the final quarter, Starwood slipped in behind the defence, clean through on goal. As she rounded the keeper, Pirelli dived to touch the ball away as the USA star took aim. The striker looked to have been clipped and went to ground, the referee quick to award the penalty. There was no panic from the Matildas goalkeeper, Pirelli waving her finger with a smile at the referee and pointing to the screen.

There was an anxious minute awaiting the VAR decision, this must have been close, and in the end the right call was made, a corner to the US. They brought up the defenders again and Beth Miller’s header was very close.

Schott made way for Uhlenstall, Abebi Ngom on for Shelley Prasad, with Gauchan moving to midfield to join Helen Maxstead. Australia started to see more possession and there was a glimpse of Anna Black’s pace as she raced onto Calloway’s flick to flash a cross tantalisingly close to the outstretched boot of Nicholls.

The game was now set for a grandstand final ten minutes. Could the Matildas find the goal to send the game into extra time? The answer was yes, and it was from a US attack that they countered.

Black intercepted a through ball and touched the ball back to Pirelli. She was under pressure but threaded a ball to Maxstead, who turned into space and fed Uhlenstall down the left. The cross was low and hard, Nicholls went to ground under a heavy challenge, but the ball fell beautifully for Calloway who got her shin to the ball and steered it past the dive of Bowers into the net. She raced away into the corner to celebrate a dramatic equaliser. Brisbane Stadium was alight.

Maxstead then released Joelle Martins who crossed for Nicholls to connect with a diving header, the ball only just past the post when it looked in. Australia were finishing strongly.

A pep talk from Bills had the players fired up for extra time. After a period of pressure from the US, there were no goals in extra time and the game was taken to penalties. Nerves had already been shredded, but there was more high drama to come.

Black scored the first penalty for the Matildas. Starwood made it 1-1, then Calloway scored.

A fabulous dive by Pirelli kept out Rufort’s low effort and Australia had the lead at 2-1.

Maxstead pressed home the advantage, firing high into the corner of the net for 3-1, before a moment that will be remembered forever in Matildas history.

Hollin stepped up, her audacious Panenka penalty looked to have sent Pirelli the wrong way. Unbelievably, she managed to bounce up and dive full length to palm the ball away. The US player reacted as if she had scored, the referee waited a moment to be sure that her watch had not buzzed and waved her arms low to signal a miss.

Hollin sunk to her knees. It was 3-1 to Australia. One more penalty would do it. Pia Nicholls was up next. Echoes of Kyah Simon in China, and of John Aloisi vs Uruguay.

Nicholls made no mistake, tucking her penalty low into the corner of the net to send the crowd and her teammates into raptures.

What a win for the Matildas, through to their first ever World Cup final. An amazing night in Brisbane, despair for the tournament favourites, but utter joy for the hosts. Bills couldn’t wipe the smile off her face in the post-match interviews. She praised the whole team, but singled out Pirelli for her heroics in goal.

Australia are into the World Cup final. Rendezvous at Stadium Australia on Sunday. Cancel all plans.



  • Australia 1 (Jasmin CALLOWAY 83), USA 1 (Meka STARWOOD 19) – Australia win 4-1 on penalties

  • Brisbane Stadium, Brisbane (Att: 52,229)

  • Referee: Anaïs MONTAUBAN

  • Player of the Match: Lisa PIRELLI


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