NEWCASTLE, Australia -- The Matildas won the Cup of Nations with a 3-0 win over Jamaica on Wednesday the icing on the cake. Australia went through the tournament with a 100% record, with 10 goals scored and only two conceded to extend their winning streak to seven games.
Katrina Gorry opened the scoring with a quintessential long-range strike; while the buildup was slightly haphazard the finish certainly wasn't.
The introduction of Alex Chidiac and Charli Grant injected new life into the Matildas at half-time and Chidiac in particular made the most of her extended playing time, adding the Matildas' second. Grant played through Gorry who cut it back for Chidiac to smash home.
Caitlin Foord continued her rich vein of scoring form, adding goal number three to the scoresheet. Her neat one-two with Sam Kerr saw her perched at the top of the D to unleash a stunning effort which Becky Spencer could do nothing about.
Mackenzie Arnold was once again enormous between the sticks, denying Kayla McKenna in the first half and Jody Brown in the second to prevent the Reggae Girlz two best chances.
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1. Midfield magicians
When it comes to midfield, one name immediately comes to mind: Gorry. The diminutive midfielder has been ever-present since her return from giving birth to daughter, Harper, and the thought of a Gorry-less Matildas is enough to send shivers down the spines of Australian fans.
While her partnership with Kyra Cooney-Cross -- and the 21 year-old's performances in her own right -- have been a huge focus over the last three windows, another midfielder has begun to dominate the conversation for a variety of reasons.
Chidiac was once again charged with the gamechanger role and, in combination with Grant, played it to perfection. In the three games this tournament, the feeling has been the same: when Chidiac comes on, things are going to change for the better. There was a desire among fans to see her start in this final game against Jamaica, something the player obviously shared.
"I'm not going to lie, I'm definitely pushing for that starting spot," she told media postmatch, but followed it with the cliched response of doing what was right for the team. Her coach's answer on her continued use off the bench was more telling.
"'Chids' deserves to start based on performance," boss Tony Gustavsson explained. "We all agree on that in here. It doesn't mean she should start. You know, what's best for the game?
"We felt that maybe that 'Chids' could come in between lines and unlock things, which she did brilliantly."
Chidiac has almost become a victim of being too good at her job. Her energizer-bunny output on the pitch is a handful for opposition players who already have a half or more in the legs. But the admission that she is good enough to start feels like one Gustavsson will need to reward eventually.
2. One half is all it takes
The theme of Australia's Cup of Nations campaign has been pretty evident: play one convincing half of football and one less-convincing half of football.
Gustavsson has offered an explanation for this, saying that the tournament nature of this window was the best chance the team had to replicate World Cup conditions. That meant being able to practice game management and change things in the middle of a game to reflect the scenario at hand.
Not everything worked but a lot of things did, and it's a far cry from where the Gustavsson-era started.
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Where he previously asked for fans and media alike to look at the snippets and glimpses of good play the Matildas produce, there has now been enough evidence across enough windows to suggest this team can actually play the way the coach had been describing.
But a full 90-minute performance is the next step for this team, and it's one that the coach is aware of.
"It wasn't a brilliant game tonight." Gustavsson said. "It wasn't a brilliant first half against Czech Republic, it wasn't a brilliant second half against Spain, but tournament football is about finding a way to win, grinding through, believing in what you're doing."
Similarly, goalkeeper Arnold was grateful for the tournament opportunity but aware of what still needs to be done for this team to become one that performs for the entirety of a match.
"I think it was important for us to really get those games under our belt, especially with being back-to-back in 10 days. So to come up against those tough teams and perform the way we did, obviously we still have a little bit to work on."
"But the performances were really good, there were really good 45 minutes in there and that's what we can work on. It was a very positive tournament for us."
The Matildas will next have an opportunity to put together a full 90 in the April international window when they play England.
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3. The Crummer question
While the Cup of Nations has been a positive tournament and for Gustavsson, there have still been some lingering questions that have emerged following the three games.
Can the Matildas put together a full 90-minute performance? Do they have enough players to rotate the squad to handle the pressures of tournament football?
The more narrow questions centre on the players themselves and how they are deployed. Can Clare Hunt maintain her form make an audacious tilt into the World Cup squad? Can the likes of Foord, Kerr and Hayley Raso maintain their goal-scoring form? Has Arnold done enough to assert herself as the No. 1 keeper? And has Larissa Crummer shown enough across three games to justify continued selection?
The Crummer question has wafted throughout the entire Cup of Nations. She hasn't lit the A-League Women on fire but Gustavsson once again called her into the squad. She was utilised off the bench in the games against the Czech Republic and Spain without showing much.
With Raso injured for this final game, it was the Brisbane Roar striker who took her spot in the starting XI, filling the hole on the right wing. There's an argument that Crummer is not a winger and the continued attempts to push her out wide -- as a right back or a right wing -- aren't fair to her as a player.
When asked about her inclusion in the starting lineup, Gustavsson spoke of his belief in starting XIs and finishing XIs. He decided that what Crummer could offer as a starter would benefit those who would come on and finish the game.
"We felt that in that maybe Crummer's runs and power and set play pressing could give us more in the first half and then when it opened up a little bit Chids' ability to come in between lines and be faced up against that backline and maybe also unlock things, if we need to unlock it, which she did brilliantly," he said.
"This time, I got it right. Next time, I might get it wrong or maybe you say it was wrong because she should have started, who knows? But it's it's a 90-minute lineup."
While she has the backing and faith of her coach, fans still want to see more. Before this tournament started, there was pressure on players across the park to perform. Now that all has been said and done, Crummer arguably still has the most pressure on her to show fans exactly why the coach believes she's the right woman for the role.
Best and worst performers
Alex Chidiac: She only played a half of football but seemed to lift the energy levels of the team as a whole through her exceptional movement, intelligence and doggedness.
Mackenzie Arnold: In years gone by, the Matildas likely concede one of Jamaica's chances and Arnold likely lets one through. She was resolute again as she has been all tournament.
Kayla McKenna: Being the striker when your team is only really getting transition opportunities is a difficult role to play but Jamaica's McKenna was able to create genuine opportunities and force Mackenzie Arnold into some saves.
Larissa Crummer: It just wasn't her tournament and she looked a step behind the rest.
Courtney Nevin: In her first start of the tournament, the Leicester City defender looked a bit fatigued at half-time and didn't show the attacking impetus she's capable of.
Cheyna Matthews: The Jamaica striker was tasked with replacing McKenna and leading the charge in the second half. She did not deliver.
Highlights and notable moments
The Matildas simply couldn't stop scoring bangers in this tournament and added more sensational efforts to the highlights reel in Newcastle. It can be argued none were better than Gorry's stunner.
Mini with ANOTHER stunner 😍— CommBank Matildas (@TheMatildas) February 22, 2023
🎥: @10FootballAU #AUSvJAM @KatrinaGorry #WeAreMatildas #CupOfNations pic.twitter.com/nOCIFlcWcV
Arnold was enormous across all three games and was a deserved player of the tournament for her three huge games.
Two clean sheets! 🧱🧤— CommBank Matildas (@TheMatildas) February 22, 2023
Player of the Tournament! Congrats, @MaccaArnold1 🌟#WeAreMatildas #CupOfNations pic.twitter.com/BGRgfijpMt
After the match: What managers, players said
Tameka Yallop. on watching the team's growth from the sidelines: "I think this tournament, it's been coming for the last two years. It's been a work in progress and it's been a process and we've all been a part of it. So I think it's kind of just come together on the field."
Mackenzie Arnold on her turnaround in form: "I think it was just the mindset that It was almost like I had nothing to lose at that point and the opportunity came up and i just wanted to grab it with both hands, which is something that I haven't done in the past."
Australia: The Matildas have won the Cup of Nations for the second time and will have a date with the European champions, England, in April to prepare for as they gear up for their opening match against Republic of Ireland at the World Cup.
Jamaica: With the Cup of Nations now complete, the Reggae Girlz will recalibrate their preparations for the Women's World Cup. As yet they have no games announced ahead of the World Cup opener against France.