When the Matildas dominated Canada and guaranteed their place in the round of 16 in the Women’s World Cup, it was due to the impressive performance of Steph Catley and Caitlin Foord. Their strong teamwork was a result of playing together for both club and country for ten years. However, during Sunday’s match against the Philippines, as Australia easily defeated them in front of a record crowd in Perth, it was evident that there are other equally powerful dynamics at play.
After the World Cup, Mary Fowler returned to Manchester City and was placed in the position of a wide forward, contrary to her previous role as a central player for Australia. In a match against Iran on Thursday, Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson decided to experiment with this change and it proved successful as Fowler and teammate Ellie Catley assisted in setting up a goal for Sam Kerr. However, in the following game against the Philippines, the experiment was reversed as Caitlin Foord took on the central role alongside Kerr.
According to Gustavsson, Fowler and Catley have a strong connection similar to Foord and Catley. While this seems accurate, the main takeaway from the Matildas’ second game in Perth was Foord’s versatility and dominance in any position.
Foord assisted in the first two goals – a back heel pass in the six-yard box to Fowler, and a quick run from the left to set up Kerr. She also scored the third goal within the first 30 minutes of the game, as well as the fourth. Whether it was from the left, right, or center of the field, and whether she was playing with Kerr, Fowler, or Hayley Raso, Foord proved to be a versatile and effective player. With her second goal, she tied for fifth place on the Matildas’ all-time scoring list alongside Sarah Walsh, who coincidentally passed down the No 9 jersey to her after retiring. However, Foord’s ranking only lasted for about 30 minutes before she scored her third goal.
Foord’s third international hat-trick and seventh goal for the Matildas showcased her exceptional individual talent. She effortlessly maneuvered past defenders and expertly scored from a difficult angle, leaving the tired Philippines goalkeeper stunned. This performance highlights Foord’s potential to be mentioned alongside Kerr’s name, not just for this team but on a global level as well.
When questioned about her preferred position, Foord responded, “I’m not entirely sure.” She went on to say, “I would probably say playing on the left side, but today I actually enjoyed playing as a number 10. It allows me to get more involved in the game and I have a great connection with Sam in that position.”
Foord and Kerr, along with Emily van Egmond, have been teammates for over ten years and first competed together at the 2011 World Cup. While their partnership in the Matildas’ attacking line is unique compared to Foord and Catley’s, it is just as strong. With the addition of Raso and the seamless integration of Fowler, there are indications that the World Cup was only the start of what this team can accomplish.
“It’s just something that comes naturally to us,” Foord stated. “We genuinely enjoy playing together. And when you add in everyone else, I feel like it all fell into place today and we were all on the same wavelength.”
The Matildas displayed an exceptional level of coordination and cohesion, almost as if they were writing literature together. This offensive display was unparalleled in recent history, with the exception of their World Cup victory against Canada, and it signified a significant moment for the team according to Gustavsson. In the past, and even in the aforementioned game against Canada, the Matildas have faced criticism for only excelling when they are seen as the underdogs or when their backs are against the wall. Their first Olympic qualifying match gave a glimpse into the challenges faced against lower-ranked opponents. However, this dynamic appeared to shift on Sunday.
“When I first came here three years ago, many individuals expressed doubt about our team’s ability to perform as the favorites,” stated Gustavsson. “This match served as a turning point for our team, demonstrating our desire to be a top-ranked team in the world. We aim to confidently face challenging situations, such as playing against defensive opponents, and today’s victory is a testament to the progress we have made.”
The Matildas have one more game left in the Olympic qualifying tournament, giving them another opportunity to establish dominance in their group and position themselves for a preferred opponent in the final round next year.
Gustavsson stated that the task is still unfinished. However, this is also a practice run. If one aims to compete in the Olympics, this demonstrates the level of competition that will be present. With only 48 hours to recuperate before the next game, it is crucial to approach recovery with utmost professionalism and prioritize both physical and mental recuperation.