Australia look ahead to Nigeria after big World Cup opening night

Steph Catley of Australia celebrates with team mates after scoring a goal during the FIFA Women's World Cup
Steph Catley of Australia celebrates with team mates after scoring a goal during the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 against Ireland (Photo by Bradley Kanaris/Getty Images)

World Cup hosts Australia and New Zealand have both kicked off the perfect start to the tournament with a win each. The Matildas will be looking to power forward after their 1-0 win against the Republic of Ireland at Stadium Australia.

The Aussies overcame the late withdrawal of captain Sam Kerr, who picked up a calf injury in training. In the Chelsea star’s absence, Steph Catley took the armband on an historic night in front of a record 75,784 supporters. And it would be a goal leading from the front that would secure Australia their first win of the tournament.

The hosts started the brighter of the two and set about testing the Irish nerves. A couple of early Ellie Carpenter crosses were well-dealt with to give Ireland some confidence. From the outset, it looked like Ireland’s best chance of making a breakthrough would come either via a set-piece or on the counter-attack.

The first real chance of any note fell Australia’s way just before the half hour mark. A whipped-in corner found Hayley Raso in the six-yard box but her effort landed the wrong side of the post and Ireland survived.

The first half turned into a somewhat scrappy affair, with Australian passes not finding their target. On the rare occasion, Ireland tried to build an attack of their own, but it quickly fizzled out too.

Some combination play between Courtnee Vine and Caitlin Foord looked like it may bear fruit. With 10 minutes until half-time, the Arsenal forward fired into the side netting after being played through by Vine.

Vine and Foord linked up again during injury time, but this time the latter was crowded out by a determined Irish defence to ensure the score remained 0-0.

Captain Catley secures dream Aussie start

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If Australia thought they would be frustrated on their big night, the second period couldn’t have started any better.

With five minutes played, a free-kick in the Ireland half was pumped into the box, where Raso was bundled to the ground by Marissa Sheva. The referee didn’t hesitate to point to the spot for the penalty. Captain Catley converted with aplomb to blow the roof off Stadium Australia.

It was nearly two straight from the kickoff, but Mary Fowler fired over the bar from distance. The Girls in Green managed to regain their composure.

Ireland would not lie down though. They kept their discipline to stay in the game and keep Australia honest in the process.

With 15 minutes left, an Ireland corner was punched away by Mackenzie Arnold. The loose ball fell to Denise O’Sullivan on the edge of the box but she put her effort over the bar with Australian defenders charging towards her.

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The Matildas dominated the ball pretty much the whole night. With a shade under 10 minutes left, they nearly put the game to bed but for some heroic defending by Louise Quinn and then Niamh Fahey to block shots in quick succession.

As the game entered stoppage time, Ireland threw everything forward in search of an equaliser. An O’Sullivan free-kick on the edge of the box was put behind for a corner, which Arnold tipped away for another that was headed wide.

Arnold, who had little to do in terms of shot-stopping in an otherwise solid performance, came into her own with virtually the last kick of the game to deny Katie McCabe with a sharp stop down to her left. The job was completed by Clare Polkinghorn who hammered the ball away to a thunderous cheer.

The final whistle gave Australia a dream start, but Vera Pauw can take plenty of positives from Ireland’s first runout. For the hosts, their next challenge will be against Nigeria, where they will hope to keep this form going.

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