Australia’s upset over England changes the World Cup contender conversation

LONDON — In manager Sarina Wiegman’s 31st game in charge of England, the Lionesses suffered their first defeat of her tenure after the Matildas scored a goal in each half on a rainy Tuesday in West London. The 2-0 loss to Australia also marked the first time England had conceded more than a single goal under Wiegman.

The Matildas went a goal to the good when Aussie striker Sam Kerr chased down a weak header from England captain Leah Williamson, with Kerr nipping in ahead of goalkeeper Mary Earps to chip the onrushing goalkeeper. Williamson was involved again after the break, this time diverting a thumping header from Matildas defender Charlotte Grant the wrong side of Earps.

Tuesday’s match fell on the 100-day mark before the 2023 Women’s World Cup begins in Australia and New Zealand.

Rapid reaction

1. With Matildas’ confidence boost, are they now World Cup favourites?

With the Matildas co-hosting the 2023 World Cup, all eyes will be on the team to put on a show at home and live up to the potential they’ve been teasing for the last few tournaments.

The loss the Matildas suffered days ago to Scotland could have put a dampener on their trip to London, but beating the reigning Euro champions, England, on their opponents’ home soil will be nothing but confidence boosting for Australia ahead of a landmark summer. Australia put an end to England’s 30-game unbeaten run, and shut out a Lionesses side that has averaged a stunning 4.6 goals since Wiegman took over.

For Matildas manager Tony Gustavsson and his players, there is still plenty of work to be done, and ongoing injury worries weren’t helped by the visitors losing utility woman Tameka Yallop during the first half and attacker Courtnee Vine in the second.

Yet in beating England, especially with key personnel out, the Matildas have shown they can go toe-to-toe with any opposition and find a way through. Although no one in the Matildas camp will be counting any chickens tonight, they will be returning home with a sizable confidence boost.

2. Lionesses’ streak comes to an unexpected end

On a tear under Wiegman, the Lionesses had only gone from strength to strength on the pitch, winning the 2021 Euros decisively and putting teams on notice with big friendly wins over the likes of the United States. Although having wobbled a little along the way, the Lionesses under Wiegman always seemed to find a way.

Yet, on a rainy night in Brentford, the Lionesses looked a shadow of themselves, struggling in defence without both first choice centre-back Millie Bright and back-up Alex Greenwood.

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But it wasn’t just at the back at the football stuttered for England: the attack struggled for fluency throughout and no matter what the coach did to try and revitalise her team, the combinations failed to live up to the billing.

Heading into the World Cup, it was always going to be key for England to be tested and even though they were facing an under-strength Australia team, actually suffering a loss under Wiegman is the type experience the Lionesses have been lacking and the question will be how they respond to their unbeaten streak being snapped.

3. Stars lead the way for the Matildas

With auxiliary players like Hayley Raso and Mary Fowler, who started both games this month, looking rusty due to limited minutes at Manchester City, the Matildas often rely even more on the stars like Sam Kerr to step up. And step up the captain did, scoring the opening goal in London and acting as a one-woman attack or most of the first half.

With Kerr absent in their 1-0 loss to Scotland and a natural goal getter, she took to the pitch in Brentford like a coiled spring. Leading from the front with the armband firmly wrapped around her right bicep, Kerr remained a persistent threat for the visitors throughout, and reminded fans and teammates alike that even with the missing four starters across the pitch, she would always be available to drive them on in attack.

Whilst there was a reliability to the favoured midfield of Kyra Cooney-Cross and Katrina Gorry that helped keep the team stable, it was Kerr and right-back Ellie Carpenter, who started for the Matildas. Kerr was reliable in attack and Carpenter was tenacious in defence to snuff out some of the more dangerous-looking England attacks.

Best and worst performers

Best: Sam Kerr, Australia

Not just the goalscorer for the Matildas but the driving force in attack for the team all game.

Best: Ellie Carpenter, Australia

Diligent in her work at full-back to quash England’s best chances on the left, although only recently back from an ACL lay-off, the defender already looks back to her best.

Best: Georgia Stanway, England

Although it clearly wasn’t England’s night, the midfielder remained a positive influence going forward for the hosts.

Worst: Leah Williamson, England

England’s reliable captain was left looking out of sorts with unfamiliar centreback partner Esme Morgan and ended up having a night to forget.

Worst: Hayley Raso, Australia

Despite running her socks off all night, Raso showed clear signs of rust.

Worst: Chloe Kelly, England

Coming into the game in plumb form, the attacker was just another cog in a front line that struggled all night.

Highlights and notable moments

England defender Leah Williamson thought she was guiding the ball to the safe hands of goalkeeper Mary Earps. But instead she just put the ball on a platter for Australia striker Samantha Kerr, which you never want to do (unless you’re on Kerr’s team).

After the match: What the managers and players said

England coach Sarina Wiegman on her first loss as England coach: “It doesn’t feel great — a big learning game against a very physical, well-organised, aggressive, good-defending Australia team. We had a lot of possession but we struggled to speed up the game, go forward and stretch them. We didn’t do that great. We made some mistakes, their counter-attack was very dangerous. Their first goal was a mistake from us, which can happen. We started the second half pretty good — but they had a counter attack and scored, that made it hard for us. We play against some opponents who drop deeper so we have to play, we have to find solutions to create more to score goals.”

Wiegman on whether this halts momentum before the Women’s World Cup in July: “I’m not worried. I don’t worry very quickly. We know we have to be at the top level and that’s when we go into the World Cup too. Against Brazil we got some warnings, and in the end we won. Against Czech Republic — we had to create a little more too, we got warnings there. We know where we want to go to — it’s building, momentum — this is just a big learning moment for us.”

Matildas manager Tony Gustavsson on whether the win changes his mindset before the World Cup: “It hasn’t changed my mindset at all — it’s part of a longer process. We started this more than two years ago — a similar situation in ’21, lost to Germany and Holland. We have spent two years investing in depth in this roster. We might not have the biggest resources, or the players in the big teams, but we have heart and commitment. I’ve always believed in this team and I’m so proud to be part of it. It’s important we don’t get carried away now, we need to stay humble. We need to stay in the boring grey area.”

Australia striker Sam Kerr on a big result against a favourite: “It’s obviously a big performance — beating England tonight doesn’t win us anything. I wouldn’t be here if it did, I’d be out celebrating. We’ve had some up and down performances over the last couple of months so to finish up like that is nice. It’s a big performance for us a team and some played well as a team too.”

Kerr on what the result does back in Australia: “It does a lot for back home. England is a big footballing nation — when people see the Matildas win, it’s big news. It’s a big win, but we’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves. We have to play with the pressures of the home crowd. But it’s a good win for the team and fans.”

Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)

  • Today marks 100 days before the 2023 Women’s World Cup begins.

  • Sam Kerr: She scores in her third straight match for Australia, and it’s her second match with a goal and an assist in her last three games played for the Matildas.

  • Kerr has 18 goal contributions for Australia since the start of 2022, including 7 (5g, 2a) in an Asian Cup group match vs. Indonesia (18-0 win).

Up next

England: The next match on the Lionesses’ calendar is the opener of their Women’s World Cup on July 22 against Haiti.

Australia: The Matildas have a final send-off match before the 2023 Women’s World Cup on July 14 when they face France in a friendly. Then, Australia’s World Cup begins on July 20.