Out of the group and into the round of 16

There’s nothing better than a player backing their words up with actions.

And that’s exactly what Sam Kerr and the Matildas did against Jamaica, with Kerr scoring all four of the Matildas goals to send us to second in Group C, and a date with Norway on Sunday morning in the Round of 16.

It also sent her to joint top of the Golden Boot ladder along with Alex Morgan (who scored 5 in the USA’s route of Thailand).

Suck on that one indeed.

Before I get into my thoughts, I want to give a shout out to Molly at Molly’s Footy Rants for getting her analysis up straight after the game. Check out her thoughts on the game here.

I needed a nap and more coffee to make my brain work after the early morning start before I dug in to get this recap done.

Okay, let’s get into it.

The Good

Sam Kerr’s Moment – After the waves she caused with her candid remarks after the win against Brazil, it was great to see Kerr in the thick of it. She scored two off the head (her speciality), dug one out from under her feet to sneak the third one and then pressured the ‘keeper into the mistake and dabbed in the fourth. And thank goodness for that – that fourth goal saved us meeting either France or Germany in the next round.

Ellie Carpenter put it all together – Carpenter seemed to be half-way there in the first two games. Attacking well against Italy, but lagging in defence, and then defending well against Brazil but being off on attack. Against Jamaica though? She was everywhere. Her defence was strong, she made some great attacking runs down the wing and when she lost the ball, she tracked back well to allow us to reset at the back. If it weren’t for Kerr’s four goals today, Carpenter was my best on ground for us.

Jamaica scoring their first Women’s World Cup goal – It was unfortunate it was against us. They came out firing in the second half and I have to be honest, they deserved that goal. They probably deserved a couple more, but I’m glad we held them to just the one.

Karly Roestbakken gets her chance – Roestbakken got a couple of minutes against Brazil and had a few touches, but she was given the chance to start in this game and played the whole 90 minutes. After a bit of a shaky start, she found her feet and although she wasn’t the quickest, she chased hard and chased down breakaways on her wing capably and had great awareness in getting her body behind the ball. I’ll be honest, I had no idea who she was before this tournament and when Alleyway left the team because of injury, I asked “Karly who??” She’s proved a more than capable replacement and will hopefully be a regular member of the team.

The Not So Good

Defence – We’re still not settled. We can probably put that down to a change in personnel over the three games, and that’s understandable because the backline has to do a mountain of work at the World Cup (especially against the opponents we’ve had this time around). However, from the outside looking in, it still seems we’re lacking a strong backline organiser/leader.

Wayward passes – We’re still giving away far too many balls from easy passes. Whether that’s lack of communication (where the receiver wants it – to feet or into space), tired legs or just poor decision-making, there’s still plenty to work on. We played well over the top in this game, which is of course why Kerr scored two of those four goals but we need to get our close ball play humming, and balls to feet under pressure if we’re going to compete over the next few rounds.

In the same vein, our off-the-ball movement is lacking some creativity, but that’s just match awareness, and I suspect adjusting to Milicic’s ways of playing. After listening to his press conferences, it seems like he’s trying to give the Matildas the tools to make decisions on the pitch for themselves and that’s going to take some time to get used to.

Where’s our goal sneak? – One of the things that’s glaringly obvious for a lot of our matches, and has been for a while now, is that on attacking raids, we don’t seem to have someone hanging around a couple of metres outside the 18 yard box waiting for the attempted clearances to pop the ball back in or take shots. We seem to have a gap in the midfield there, which means we’re allowing the opposition to get out of trouble and we’re doing way too much work in transition then to turn and chase.

Which is why, in her wrap-up, Molly mentioned that we looked a little lethargic. I agree. And it’s because we’re doing far too much running off the ball because we’re losing our shape – either everyone’s attacking or everyone’s defending and there’s a swathe of space in the middle we’re not taking advantage of.

Apart from all of that, we’re building nicely I think, and we seem to be fixing mistakes as we go. Each opposition will have their quirks, and it seems like Milicic and the coaching team are doing some good work in the background to give us the best chance of success.

It was a huge ask for a new coach to come into an established set-up so close to a major tournament, and while there are obviously growing pains, I think the team is adjusting nicely.

Bring on Norway, 5am Sunday!

Final random take-away

It’s much easier to get up and watch a 2am game than a 5am game, because it’s easier to go back to bed when it’s still dark. One reason I’m extremely happy to be working for myself from home these days is that I get to sleep in.

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