The Mini Matildas series against New Zealand was designed to establish how the next generation of female footballing talent are currently fairing.
With Belinda Wilson recently taking over the reins of the U-16 National Women-s team, she publicly stated that this friendly series against New Zealand was to establish where the squad of 23 was at. Wilson stated a desire to see how the new players she has introduced have blended with the existing group, how well the group have developed and understood the instructions provided at the recent training camps and more importantly, their execution of these plays at an international level.
As we all know, this series leads the Mini Matildas into the U-16 Asian Championships next month in September where they will play China and Bahrain aiming to secure top spot so that they qualify for next year-s U-17-s World Cup in Costa Rica. So bring it on New Zealand!
With mixed results from the series, coach Belinda Wilson may now have a better understanding of what the group needs to work on in the run up to China. Wrapping up the three game series at the AIS on Saturday August 17th under brilliant sunshine, the Mini Matilda-s had a 6 nil win over the Kiwis closing the series out in emphatic fashion. Let-s rewind and encapsulate what happened over the series.
Game 1 - Australia 2 (Sunny Franco & Jessica Waterhouse) V-s New Zealand 1
The friendly series began back on Sunday 11th August where the Australians played the New Zealanders in an 'unofficial training' match with only invited media in attendance. It was in this game that Wilson was able to start with several new comers to the squad and assess different combinations on the pitch.
There were players who were unable to attend the Korean tour due to illness and injury so this provided Wilson with a ‘sandpit environment- to observe them in action and trial different combinations. The result was a solid 2 to 1 win for the Australians in what I believe was a hard contested game with many positive outcomes for both teams.
Goals were attributed to the ‘in form- forward Sunny Franco and the consistent midfielder Jessica Waterhouse with the latter slotting a goal from 25 metres out using the outside of her right foot guiding the ball past the keeper and into the top corner of the net. The Australians had the majority of possession for the duration of the game struggling to convert the many opportunities presented up forward. New Zealand played well and certainly took it up to the Mini Matildas on the day.
Game 2 - Australia 0 V-s New Zealand 0
Game two was played on Wednesday August 14th at the AIS athletics arena under brilliant sunshine with neither team being able to convert the many opportunities on offer and resulting in a nil all draw. With Matilda-s royalty watching the game in the form of player Michelle Hayman, National coach Hesterine De Reus and goalkeeper coach Paul Jones, the future of Australian women-s football was on display for all to see. A strong westerly breeze favoured the New Zealand goal in the first half and the Australians fought hard defensively right from the get go.
Wilson opted for Teagan Micah to protect the goal line with the support of Matilda Potter, Sienna Senatore, Victoria Guzman and Chloe O-Brien down back. In the engine room Wilson opted for Jessica Pitts, Alexandra Chidiac and Jessica Waterhouse while up front, the youngster Afrikah McGladrigan, Angela Beard and Tia Gavin led the charge.
In what turned out to be a very lack lustre affair, both teams had their chances with the Mini Matildas having the majority of possession for the entire game through the midfield but certainly this was negated by the New Zealand defensive line thwarting every advance on goal. Missed chances were abound and both teams could not find the net. Again Waterhouse was dominant controlling the midfield and distributing the ball across the pitch and in conjunction with Alexandra Chidiac and Jessica Pitts, they were wreaking havoc for the New Zealand midfielders by creating numerous opportunities up forward.
The New Zealanders were certainly not dormant and through several good switches of play across the pitch, were themselves able to open up the defensive line of Australia in the second half with several calculated shots on goal being repelled by the Australian keeper Teagan Micah pressured to maintain a clean sheet. Half time saw the addition of some pace up front with Sunny Franco, Emily Henderson and Ayesha Norrie added to the roster with immediate impact.
Controversy surrounded the game when several minutes into the second half the ‘in form- Sunny Franco scored only to see the linesman-s flag raised for an offside call. Franco had moved forward deep into the box and received a strategically placed free kick from Jessica Waterhouse chipping it on the full over the keepers outstretched hands and into the far left hand corner of the net. This was truly a wonderful goal executed to perfection from what looked like a set play only to be denied by the official. It has since been established from video replay that the incorrect call was made - but that-s football. This set the scene for a big finale to the series on Saturday August 17th with the only set back being an unfortunate injury to forward Eleni Fakos late in the second half of the game.
Game 3 - Australia 6 (Sunny Franco 2, Afrikah McGladrigan, Angela Beard, Alexandra Chidiac and Jessica Waterhouse) V-s New Zealand 0
The scene was set for a spectacular finale to the series with game two registering a nil all draw and the Australian coach Wilson looking for a much better finish this time round. True to her word, Wilson opted for a completely new combination sporting several different faces in the starting eleven combining this with a mixture of experience that saw the Australian-s dominate the final game.
After a series of injuries, Jessica Urquhart was welcomed back to the team to cast a watchful over the goal line and was ably supported by a defensive line led by Isobel Dalton, Maddy Stockdale, Brooke Goodrich and Sophie Nenadovic. In the midfield Wilson opted for the workhorse Jessica Waterhouse surrounded by Alexandra Chidiac and Ayesha Norrie while up front captain Sunny Franco was supported by Afrikah McGladrigan and Angela Beard.
Right from the start, the Mini Matildas were aggressive on the ball and through some well-structured distribution out of defense and quickly up to the forwards, Australia were able to hit the running targets and convert 6 times for the match - something that must have brought a smile to the face of coach Belinda Wilson.
With the U-20 Young Matildas all watching from the stands, the Mini Matildas were under added pressure to produce a good result for the home team. Ayesha Norrie was dangerous early taking some ambitious shots in goal until again Sunny Franco stepped up in the 9th minute and smashed a right foot shot into the woodwork only to see the rebound land in the path of youngster Afrikah McGladrigan who easily secured the first major of the day.
The corners were coming thick and fast for Australia as the New Zealanders were unable to slow down the pace of play and the Australian midfielders again exerted their dominance with excellent distribution to the forwards. Several set plays from free kicks were implemented with varying degrees of success but this would have been pleasing for Wilson to see the girls executing some of the lessons learnt at training camp. At the 23 minute mark, an injury to youngster Afrikah McGladrigan saw the substitution of Rhianna Pollicina into the game.
Relentlessly, Australia pushed forward up the right wing where a cross to the top of the box rebounded off the hands of the New Zealand keeper into the waiting arms of Sunny Franco who finished beautifully taking the score line to 2 nil. Minutes later, through another well structured passage of play, Angela Beard put the finishing touches on the ball to secure her first goal for Australia and setup a now widening gap with Australia three to New Zealand nil.
The Australians were again in charge in the second half of the game led by a strong defensive line and produced a solid display of possession football right across the pitch. They were rarely threatened by the New Zealanders and once again Sunny Franco showed her class when on the end of a lovely through ball from Jess Waterhouse, she managed to draw the keeper out from the box and nonchalantly sidestep past to complete her brace for the game - four nil to Australia.
With the sting now gone from the game, it was purely a matter of how big the score line would be. Beattie Goad and Jessica Pitts were introduced late into the game to continue with the tactic of speed and aggression on the ball and it was shortly after we witnessed a dashing run from Alexandra Chidiac up through the middle evading several New Zealand defenders and slotting the resultant shot past the keeper to register goal number five for the Australians. Chidiac had grown in confidence as the game progressed and in conjunction with the consistent Waterhouse both were damaging to New Zealand. It was the latter who would have the final say stamping her authority on the series. Waterhouse hovering around the 30 metre mark sent a bold right foot bullet across the New Zealand defensive line hurtling into the right hand corner of the net to settle the score line once and for all at six goals to nil and wrap up the series for Australia.
It was a dominant display by Australia in game three and it would instil confidence in the coaching and playing group that come time for the AFC qualifiers in China later in September, there were some really positive attributes to work with. No doubt Wilson will be watching the squad next week when they will all return to sunny Canberra to compete for their respective states in the NTC Challenge.