In a wild turn of events, Italy was able to capitalize on defensive errors and a late set piece to find a 2-1 win over Australia in the first match of Group C.
Italy came out on the front foot early, challenging an Australian backline who struggled to track their attacking runs. In one of those attempts, a through ball found Barbara Bonansea behind Australia’s defense in the ninth minute. Bonansea was able to take the ball at speed and beat Lydia Williams 1v1 to find the back of the net. Unfortunately for her, the play was called offside.
Despite the Italian pressure, the Matildas were able to generate chances, especially by finding Sam Kerr over the top and through Ellie Carpenter driving up the right side of the field. In the 22nd minute, Kerr drew a foul in the box from Sara Gama, who was given a yellow card for a two-handed shove. Kerr’s penalty was well-read by Laura Giuliani, making the initial save. However, Kerr was able to get on the end of the rebound and sink her shot, putting Australia up 1-0.
Now leading the game, the Matildas were able to find momentum going forward, but Italian pressure continued to present challenges. In the 29th minute, Valentina Cernoia sent a cross to Cristiana Girelli, calling Lydia Williams to come up huge to deny the goal. The play was eventually called offside.
Australia was able to find opportunities of their own; in the 54th minute, Ellie Carpenter played a one-two off Hayley Raso before crossing the ball to Caitlin Foord in the center of the box. Foord’s shot was saved by Laura Giuliani.
Coming into the match, defense was a huge question for the Matildas, and their performance against Italy provided few answers. In the 56th minute, Alanna Kennedy played a pass to Clare Polkinghorne, who took a huge first touch forward. Barbara Bonansea took advantage, jumping on the end of it. Bonansea dribbled forward, beating Kennedy and sending the ball far post to find the equalizer.
The Australians conceded another goal in the 81st minute, but it was again ruled offside, and it looked like the Matildas could come out with a draw. Finding an intensity that had been missing, the Aussies looked dangerous in the last five minutes of regulation time.
It wasn’t until the fifth minute of stoppage time that Italy broke through again. The Matildas conceded a foul in the left corner of their defensive end and Valentina Cernoia stepped up to take the set piece. Cernoia sent in a fantastic left-footed ball, and Barbara Bonansea rose up above Sam Kerr to find the game-winning header.
How did the Thorns do?
Playing as a wingback, Ellie Carpenter found a decent amount of time on the ball, especially in the first half. Italy left wide open space on the flanks, and Carpenter took full advantage, pushing up the right. She had a couple decent crosses, but also showcased a number of poor giveaways in the attacking third. Defensively, Carpenter was one of Australia’s better players in the sense that she wasn’t giving up clear scoring opportunities and had a couple good stops; it was a solid performance, but nothing stellar.
Caitlin Foord slotted in as one of the attacking center midfielders in an inverted midfield triangle. In the opening fifteen minutes of the game, she tracked back well to win the ball and spring counterattacks, but was overall quiet. In the second half, Foord was able to find a couple of quality chances on goal, denied by Laura Giuliani on both occasions.
Hayley Raso started the match on the right wing, overlapping with Ellie Carpenter. She showed well combining with Carpenter early on and was able to track back and cover defensively when Carpenter pushed up into Australia’s attack. Raso’s pace proved valuable going forward, but her decision making was somewhat lacking, as many of her crosses went straight to Italian defenders. She was subbed off for Katrina Gorry in the 69th minute.