Matildas lose to USA, but signs good for tournament

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In a week of corruption controversy for world soccer, the Women''s World Cup has started in Canada, with Australia making making a promising start. Lachlan Barker reports.

WITH ALL the FIFA news of corruption and the shock, sudden resignation of president Sepp Blatter, just four days after being re-elected, most – me included – forgot about the Women’s World Cup. This tournament started in Canada this Saturday past, and so it’s good to have something decent to report from the world of soccer.

I say decent, because for the first time latterly I can put "FIFA" in a sentence and not have to add the word ‘corruption’.

Australia’s women’s team, the Matildas began their campaign Tuesday morning Australian time against the USA in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Sadly the Matildas lost, 3-1, but they played well and, indeed, dominated for large periods of both halves. However, the USA are ranked number two in the world – Germany are number one – and so this performance gave the Australians a lot to take away from the game.

From the start, Australia looked fully in place against a giant of women’s soccer and nearly took the lead in the fifth minute, when a well placed strike from Emily Van Egmond required a brilliant save from U.S. keeper Hope Solo to keep the score sheet level. Solo deflected Van Egmond’s shot against the cross bar, then over and out for a corner. Clearly, it was game on.

Unfortunately for the Matildas, the USA immediately began showing that most ominous sign of a great team, being able to win despite not playing well. This was shown amply in the 12th minute, when U.S. midfielder Megan Rapinoe hit a long ranger, which deflected off Australian central defender Laura Alleway and the deflection left Australian keeper Melissa Barbieri with no chance.

This was against the run of play and a body blow for the ''Tildas. However, they kept coming at the world number two team. A good attitude will get you far on the sporting field and, so, in the 27th minute Australia equalised. A good build up saw Michelle Heyman able to play a ball into space for right winger Lisa De Vanna, De Vanna launched a low powerful left foot drive that left Solo no chance. Scores were level again at 1-1 and Australia hoped once more.

The teams stayed in stalemate for the rest of the first half, but then in the second half, on the hour mark, the USA broke Australia’s hearts. A build up from the U.S. down their left flank saw the ball roll loose in midfield and Christen Press latched onto it, sending a brilliant strike into the far corner of the Australian goal.

Australia continued to strive hard for the rest of the game, but couldn’t get the break. Then opening scorer Rapinoe killed Australia off with a clinching goal in the 78th minute.

In the end, it was a good performance from the Matildas, but a hard-nosed and professional USA were just too steely on the day.

The Women’s World Cup has 24 teams contesting these finals and so to qualify for the next round it is the top two from each group, and the best four third-placed finishers, to make up the first knockout round of 16.

Australia is in (sadly) a group of death, which is a soccer nickname for a group with four strong teams. Some teams are lucky to be drawn in a group with one or two weaker teams and so have an easier qualifying road. This was evidenced big time in Group B, when an awe-inspiring German team put ten past the Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) to win 10-0.

In our group the two other teams are Nigeria and Sweden, who played out a three-all draw in their opening match. Thus Australia sits currently on the bottom of the group.

The next match for the Matildas is on Saturday (AEST) against Nigeria; a draw minimum will be the Matilda’s goal from the game to keep their chances alive.

Also from the world of soccer and happy I am to put it last, though I do consider this good news, Sepp Blatter shocked us all by doing an about face and resigning as FIFA president.

In last week’s column, I mentioned the ongoing corruption furor engulfing FIFA and conjectured at one point over whether Sepp Blatter, who presided over the mess, should resign.

So just a brief catch up, for those who didn’t see last week, FIFA had seven officials hauled away by Swiss and U.S. authorities on the eve of the FIFA meeting scheduled to elect the president for the next four years.

The charges laid list ongoing corruption involving these officials and mention amounts in the tens of millions going back multiple decades.

Blatter simply ignored this and ran for re-election and was duly elected by those left standing in the FIFA meeting room.

It seems that Blatter was clinging to a faint gossamer-thin strand of hope that the seven officials now in custody would say nothing. If they did this, he held the most microscopic chance of riding out the storm.

However, very early in the process of interview by the U.S. officials, it became rapidly clear that the full story was going to come out. U.S. official Chuck Blazer, for one, reportedly made an immediate confession of taking bribes.

With Blazer’s testimony ringing the warning bell, Blatter, it seems, gave up his last hope and resigned. Whether Blatter himself will face charges is, at the moment, uncertain, though he is certainly being investigated.

This can only be good for soccer globally and we are now hoping that a root and branch reform of FIFA will occur, and future tournaments, awarded by, and run under, the auspices of FIFA will be honest affairs.

Certainly, the Women’s World Cup fits the "honest" tag and certainly provides us with some soccer to watch without looking over our shoulders wondering if FIFA corruption is going to dampen the experience.

Go Matildas!

Lachlan Barker blogs at You can follow Lachlan on Twitter @cyclonecharlie8.

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