Matildas bow out of World Cup with Ashes back on the line

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The valiant Matildas' run ended at the women's soccer World Cup, while Australia's cricketers prepare to defend the Ashes in England and Wales. Lachlan Barker reports.

IN THE END, there was a touch of inevitabability about Australia’s 1-0 loss to Japan yesterday morning Australian time. It wasn’t that Australia played badly — more that, as the match wore on, the fatigue of the Australian players became increasingly clear.

The Japanese – compact, intricate and hard working – were able to maintain a steady level of aerobic output for the whole 90 minutes. While the Matildas found the last twenty minutes in particular just a bridge too far.

Simple passes began to go astray – a sure sign of fatigue – goalkeeper Lydia Williams was unable to be decisive on a particular Japanese attack. This was another sign that Australia was out of petrol. Williams performed well on the day and, indeed, throughout the tournament, but this small incident showed the signs of fatigue all too clearly.

So when Japan lined up for a corner in the 87th minute, it was cause for concern. The set piece was duly launched, Australia were unable to clear their lines and Japanese substitute Mana Iwabuchi slotted the goal.

Australia toiled hard for the remaining minutes, but Japan were just too together all over the park and made it home to victory.

This visible fatigue for Australia had its genesis on the opening day of their tournament, when Australia lost 3-1 to the USA. This loss meant that every game after that became a "must win" scenario, with subsequent piling on of the pressure.

Australia then duly beat Nigeria 2-0, which eased the strain slightly. However even their last group game against Sweden had to be drawn or won, as a loss to Sweden could have still seen Australia eliminated at the group stage.

Japan, in contrast, won their opening match and so were able to move on in the group phase with less pressure on their backs. They beat Switzerland 1-0 in game one, then Cameroon 2-1 and, finally, Ecuador 1-0 in the final group round.

And I’m not saying here that Japan had it easy, but they are tournament veterans and as such know how to do it. Start as you mean to go on with as steady a level of output as possible, to save plenty for the final gruelling matches of the tournament.

The round of four has now been settled, ahead of the semi-finals this week. France, in an almighty accolade to them took Germany to extra time, then penalties, which Germany then won 5-4. The USA defeated China 1-0 in regulation and now the world’s number one and two teams face off in the first semi-final.

On Australia’s side of the draw England defeated hosts Canada 2-1, and so now play Japan in the second semi-final.

So in the end it really was a great tournament from the Matildas. They are the first Australian team to win a match in the knockout phase, and their round-of-eight finish is a just credit to their hard work.

However, on the down side, we once again learn of the sexism inherent in sport. Senator Larissa Waters, in combination with Women’s Agenda, produced an eye-opening exposé, highlighting the inequity in pay for our female sports participants.

The story says this:

As has been discussed in the mainstream media, the Matildas are paid about one quarter of the national average Australian worker's salary and many juggle their full-time training with other work.

Even more starkly, the Matildas are paid $500 for each international game they play, while the Socceroos are paid $6000 for international games.

Bad as this is, I believe it once again highlights how much the Matildas have achieved in this tournament. To have gone so far whilst holding down full-time jobs and studies is a testament to their work ethic.

The Womens’ Agenda story then records these concerning findings:

A recent study by the Australian Sports Commission found women feature in only 7% of sports programming in Australia.

And the most alarming thing is that this is actually a decrease from the 11% of programming women's sport received a decade ago.

Women’s Agenda then goes on to conclude:

Just like the overall gender pay gap in Australia, we're sliding backwards on equality indicators in sports.

Women deserve equality in all fields and we need to arrest these deeply concerning trends.

Couldn’t agree more and, might I add, that’s why here at Independent Australia we took the decision to cover women’s sport first. It is only a small thing, but I’d like to think we are part of the solution to inequality in all its forms.

So moving on, elsewhere in the field of Australian sporting endeavours Australia’s male cricketers will be contesting the Ashes during this northern summer, away to England. The first test will be next Wednesday, 8 July, and already Australia are showing the sort of form we like to see.

In the first tour match against county side Kent, Australia screamed away to post 507-8 declared in their first innings. Openers Chris Rogers (84) and Shaun Marsh (114) set the tone for the innings. Then Steve Smith scored briskly with 111 from 153, then form good and noted, retired, rather than being dismissed.

Australia then posted 322 for 4 declared in their second dig. Shane Watson added a solid 81 from 76, while Mitchell Marsh knocked up a ton, top scoring with 101 from 94, at which point he retired.

Kent’s second innings showed good form for England aspirant Daniel Bell-Drummond with 127 from 112. Kent as a whole ended up all out for 294, with Australia winning the match by 255 runs.

This leaves the selectors with the classic “good” problem — with everyone in form, who do you leave out?

Debate surrounds who will be Dave Warner’s opening batting partner, Chris Rogers or Shaun Marsh? Rogers missed the two tests in the West Indies with concussion, however looks to have shown enough from in this match to regain his spot.

Usually, selectors will put a man back in following injury and so Rogers is likely to get a run in the first test. Shaun Marsh, however, is clearly in good form, so any stutter on the part of the more experienced opener, Rogers, will likely see the younger man enter the Ashes equation.

Another battle is for the all-rounder’s spot, with Shane Watson facing a determined challenge from Mitchell Marsh. Australian coach Darren Lehmann has stated that Watson will have to bowl well in the Essex match if he wants to keep his spot. Mitch Marsh bowled competently against Kent in taking two wickets, while Watson didn’t bowl.

One presumes that Australia feel the need to husband Watson’s strength for the long tour. However, once on the field at Chelmsford, Watson will be thrown the ball, and given the chance to prove himself.

Thus the likely Australian first test team is: Dave Warner, Rogers, Smith, Clarke, Adam Voges, Shane Watson, Brad Haddin, Mitchell Johnson, Ryan Harris, Mitchell Starc and Nathan Lyon.

For England (likely): Alistair Cook, Adam Lyth, Ian Bell, Gary Ballance, Joe Root, Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Moeen Ali, Jimmy Anderson, Stuart Broad and Mark Wood.

Best form for the Englishmen comes from Joe Root with the bat, while, Bell-Drummond will now exert pressure for an opening spot.

In the bowling department, Jim Anderson and Stuart Broad will provide real menace with the ball, while giant 6ft 7in rocket launcher Steven Finn will be next in line for selection.

So both teams have good form going in and so the series will be intense as ever.

However with the (in my opinion) hopelessly congested world cricket schedule, home teams are increasingly favoured, so I will now do my bit for Australia by tipping England to win at home.

Those who know my sports tipping abilities will therefore understand that this is as good as saying "Australia is going to win 5-0".

Lachlan blogs at you can follow him on Twitter @CycloneCharlie8.

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