Despite the delay, the Matildas were still able to provide many magical moments, from an Olympic campaign to friendlies with some of women’s football’s biggest nations.
Japan v Australia - 14th July, 2021
400 long days after securing qualification to the Olympic games, the Matildas laced up their boots once again to play Japan in their final Olympics warm up game. Nadeshiko and the Matildas had locked horns 28 times prior to this one with Australia winning eight of those encounters, with nine of them being draws. Japan had been victorious on 11 occasions and they extended that streak in a tight 1-0 win in hot, humid conditions at Sanga Stadium in Tokyo. Managing player load was Tony Gustavsson’s main priority ahead of the match. Teagan Micah was one of the Matildas best, pulling on numerous big saves for Australia in what was just her second start for the national side.
Despite global outcry, world sport’s showpiece event went ahead in 2021 behind closed doors, as the COVID-19 outbreak worsened in host-nation Japan. For the Matildas, the task was simple: win gold at the Olympic games. It was never going to be a straightforward task though. As one of 12 nations competing, the Matildas had plenty of world-class opposition in front of them with the likes of Sweden, USA, Great Britain all boasting superstar players. Eventual matches against those three nations would prove to test Australia’s resolve.
Grouped with Sweden, USA and New Zealand, it was a trans-Tasman clash that started the Matildas campaign. Australia played in a 3-4-3 formation with coach Tony Gustavsson opting for the pace of Steph Catley and Hayley Raso to feed superstar forwards Sam Kerr, Caitlin Foord and Kyah Simon. The match finished 2-1 thanks to goals from Kerr and Tameka Yallop in what was the perfect start for Australia in the tournament, but tougher tests against Sweden and USA were to follow. New Zealand struggled in the group stages finishing winless from three matches and 12th overall in the competition.
Three days after their Kiwi triumph, Australia faced powerhouse Sweden. Teagen Micah kept goal in place of usual number one Lydia Williams, in what was the Matildas only change from matchday one. A pulsating fixture followed that produced six goals, but it was the Swedes who finished on top running out 4-2 winners. Sam Kerr bagged a brace to make it three goals from the opening two matches, in what proved to be a what could have been game for the Aussies. The Matildas were 2-1 up by the 49th minute, but a second half onslaught saw the Swedes score three to run out winners.
Next up was the USA for the Matildas in a match that finished 0-0. Neither side could find the breakthrough but it mattered little, as both Australia and the USA progressed to the tournament's knockout stages. Australia finished third in their group behind the USA in second and Sweden in first.
The Matildas were drawn against the United Kingdom in the Quarter-Finals and the match proved to be Australia’s best moment of the Olympic Games. A 4-3 win for the Aussies after extra time followed, with goals to Kerr and teenager Mary Fowler paving the way for the victory. United Kingdom striker Ellen White bagged all three and the matchball for the Brits. The victory meant Australia surpassed their Rio 2016 Olympics Games Quarter-Finals finish, moving a step closer to the Gold Medal in 2021.
In their way in the semi-finals was an old foe however, Sweden. The Swedes got the better of Australia in the group stages and they proved to be a bridge too far yet again. Barcelona superstar Fridlina Rolfo scored the game's only goal to hand Sweden progression to the tournament’s decider leaving the Matildas licking their wounds as the chance of a gold medal match slipped through their fingers. Sweden would be beaten on penalties in the final to Canada, leaving Japan with the Silver Medal.
For Australia, they faced the USA for the second time in the tournament in the Bronze Medal match. The USWNT showed why they are women’s football's most feared nation, prevailing 4-3 to dash the Matildas hopes of winning Bronze at the Games. Sam Kerr’s sixth goal of the tournament was another history-making moment, moving past fellow great Lisa De Vanna to become the Matildas all-time leading scorer. That was as good as it got for the Aussies though, as the wait for an Olympic medal continues.
The Matildas rounded out 2021 with five friendlies against the Republic of Ireland, Brazil and the USA. The matches proved to be somewhat experimental for coach Tony Gustavsson, who often tried different systems and formations. Australia won just once from the five matches in less than ideal preparation for the 2022 edition of the Women’s Asian Cup.