Australia roared to a 4-0 victory over Sweden in Melbourne to make it three wins on the bounce. A Caitlin Foord double as well as goals for Sam Kerr and Mary Fowler earned the Matildas a win over their highest-ranked opponents since their 1-0 defeat of the world No. 1 United States back in 2017.
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While Sweden were the dominant side for the opening half, it was the Matildas who took the lead through Kerr in the 37th minute. In what was her first goal in green and gold since April, Kerr was able to direct the ball past her Chelsea teammate Zecira Musovic in the Swedish goal, after a pinpoint pass from Katrina Gorry, a smart layoff from Foord and a cross from Hayley Raso.
The Matildas kicked up the intensity in the second half and added three goals to the scoreline, making this their most comprehensive ever victory over a team ranked in FIFA's top five.
Foord began to strut her stuff, unleashing a stunning curling strike to make it two following an outside-of-the-boot assist from Cooney-Cross. Fowler, with the help a massive deflection, added a third. Gorry's cross-field ball from the back part of the midfield found Kerr who was able to tee up Fowler for the finish. Foord rounded out the rout and netted her brace, following some smooth passes from Kerr and substitute Emily van Egmond.
Pleasingly for the Matildas, the team were able to keep a clean sheet, their first since their scoreless draw with the United States at the Olympics, in what was overall an almost complete performance for the Aussies.
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1. Caitlin Foord is the most in-form Matilda
Tony Gustavsson is always the first to admit that majority of a player's development occurs in club land, he can only hope that players are able to bring that form to the national team. Foord has absolutely done that and been able to maintain it across international windows as well as across competitions for Arsenal. Her two goals against Sweden are in addition to her brace against Denmark and goal against South Africa in October.
When asked about what to put her good form down to, Foord laughed and said she was simply enjoying her football. But when pressed to think about it more, she offered up an illuminating answer as to the progress of women's football as a whole, particularly for Australians. "I just put it down to having an offseason," Foord told media postmatch. "I think having time away from the game, having time to refresh and to miss the game a bit, I think that's what I've needed. It's been so many years back and forward [between leagues] and not really having that time to just settle down."
"I think that's for a lot of us as well and making the move to England has given us the opportunity to do that."
2. Gustavsson has seemingly found the optimal formation
After almost two years of experimentation, bedding down systems and formations, it appears, following an admittedly small sample size, that Gustavsson has found the baseline formation from which the Matildas can win games. The coach not only stuck with his midfield selections from the October window despite bigger name players returning to the fold, but with the formation which bore fruit against Denmark in particular.
After the game the coach pointed out the spine of his team -- the centre-back pairing of Catley and Polkinghorne, the midfield duo of Gorry and Cooney-Cross, as well as the dynamic duo of Kerr and Foord up top -- was the "part that won us the game today."
Tactically, the team was able to make adjustments mid-game which saw them not only end the first half with that much needed goal but kick on in the second half to take the game away from Sweden completely.
"We went more from a 4-2-3-1 to more 4-4-2," Gustavsson said postmatch. "When we brought Vine and Raso lower down the field and flatten out Caitlin and Sam, because Caitlin and Sam are so freaking good at cutting off passing channels and know when to press. And when they were staggered, we had too much space in inside pocket."
That these changes were able to occur mid-game speaks to the ways in which Gustavsson's team has grown and their ability to now be more flexible and exercise game management -- things Gustavsson has long spoken about.
3. The World Cup rehearsal everyone wanted (except Sweden)
Plenty of teams have made and will make use of friendlies against Australia and New Zealand ahead of the 2023 World Cup. Similarly, the Matildas are using these friendlies as dress rehearsals for what will be the biggest games the Aussies will play.
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It began with the United States in November 2021. The clash was billed as a World Cup warmup -- Stadium Australia hosted the clash and will host the World Cup final -- but the Matildas seemingly got overawed by the occasion. Similarly, against Canada at the Sydney Football Stadium in September this year, where the Matildas will play their opening match, a bright start gave way to a Canadian comeback.
But at AAMI Park, where Australia will play Canada in their final group game in 2023, everything came together. A boisterous 22,065 crowd were in raptures at every Matildas attack. The team didn't seem to be bogged down by the sense of occasion but rather rose to it in a scintillating second half. And while they were small in number, the pocket of Swedish fans contributed their own noise to make for one incredible event.
Not that anyone needed further incentive to get excited for women's football's showpiece tournament, but Melbourne and the Matildas offered exactly that.
Australia: Teagan Micah 6, Courtney Nevin 5, Clare Polkinghorne 6, Steph Catley 6, Charli Grant 5, Katrina Gorry 7, Kyra Cooney-Cross 7, Hayley Raso 6, Caitlin Foord 8, Sam Kerr 7, Cortnee Vine 5.
Subs: Mary Fowler 7, Emily van Egmond 7, Larissa Crummer 5, Aivi Luik 5.
Sweden: Zecira Musovic 5, Jonna Andersson 5, Linda Sembrant 5, Madelen Janogy, 6 Sofia Jakobsson 5, Stina Blackstenius 5, Nathalie Bjorn 5, Emma Kullberg 5, Johanna Rytting Kaneryd 6, Hanna Bennison 5, Elin Rubensson 5.
Subs: Rebecka Blomqvist 4, Julia Zigiotti Olme 4, Olivia Schough 4, Filippa Angeldal 4, Matilda Vinberg 4.
Best and worst performers
BEST: Caitlin Foord
The Arsenal striker is simply unstoppable and is enjoying her move central for the national team.
WORST: Stina Blackstenius
From one Arsenal striker to another, Blackstenius was very quiet for Sweden.
Highlights and notable moments
Foord fires from range! 🚀— CommBank Matildas (@TheMatildas) November 12, 2022
🎥: @10FootballAU #WeAreMatildas #AUSvSWE pic.twitter.com/lo4OqUUn6L
Not many players reach the 100-game milestone in Australian football, let alone 150. But Clare Polkinghorne has joined an exclusive group to become only the third Australian to bring up 150 national team appearances.
Joining Matildas legends Lisa De Vanna and Cheryl Salisbury, Polkinghorne could end the year joint top with Salisbury, who made 151 national team appearances.
Caitlin Scoord. That's it.— Ann Odong 🐨🇺🇬 (@AnnOdong) November 12, 2022
While the team will be delighted to notch a victory in an important milestone match, the focus today was truly on Foord who may need to consider a name change after her efforts.
After the match: What the players and managers said
Caitlin Foord, on the reasons for her good form: "On top of that, being at a club like Arsenal. Obviously, the level that I'm training at day in, day out and the demand to have to perform otherwise, in a squad like that surrounded by so many great players, if you're not in form, you'll be on the bench."
Matildas head coach, Tony Gustavsson: "Am I happy with this performance? Yes, but I'm not over the moon. I'm very humble about where we are and this was one game."
- Polkinghorne became the third Australian, man or woman, to play 150 games for the national team. She is on track to equal Cheryl Salisbury's record 151 appearances against Thailand on Tuesday.
- This was the Matildas biggest-ever win over a top five-ranked team and their highest ranked victory since their 1-0 win over the No. 1 ranked USWNT in 2017.
- The Matildas landed their first clean sheet against a top-10 nation since the Olympics group stage 0-0 draw with USA.
Australia: The Matildas will end their year in Gosford as they play host to Thailand in the second match of this international window.
Sweden: This loss, meanwhile, is 2022 done for Sweden. The team will undoubtedly regroup and reassess as they look towards their opening match at the World Cup in New Zealand against South Africa in July 2023.