Australia have finished on top of the Group B after a 2-1 win over Thailand. For the third game in a row The Matildas faced a team that defended in numbers and their final group stage opponent proved the most difficult.
Tony Gustavsson made nine changes to the starting 11. The result was a composed performance that was lacking in cutting edge.
Australia attacked from the whistle, and it was Emily van Egmond who broke the deadlock, scoring for the third consecutive match. Her well struck shot from the edge of the area found the bottom corner to give The Matildas a deserved lead.
Kyra Cooney-Cross had a strong effort blocked and Remy Siemsen had a penalty claim denied as Australia probed the Thai defence.
The second half saw chances to Sam Kerr, Caitlin Foord, Kyah Simon, and Mary Fowler go begging as Thailand weathered consistent attacks.
Kerr finally added a second in the 81st minute. She pounced on a goalkeeper fumble to score her seventh goal in three games.
Although Thailand continued to frustrate the tournament favorites but did not test Lydia Williams or the Aussie defence until very late.
A corner kick was not cleared and Panyusok sent a dipping half volley into the net in the final second of the match.
The Matildas got the job done but will look to improve when they face South Korea in the quarter finals.
SQUAD DEPTH TESTED
With progression into the next round assured Gustavsson took the opportunity to rest players and give minutes to others.
Charli Grant made her first start for the national team. She was joined in the first eleven by Kyra Cooney-Cross, Aivi Luik, Courtney Nevin, Holly Mcnamara and Clare Wheeler. Lydia Williams started in goal, and Cortnee Vine partnered Remy Siemsen up front.
The wholesale changes meant that there was some hesitation in build up play. In the absence of Sam Kerr, Australia was missing their normally ever-present focal point in attack.
The best chances in the early stages came through the individual skills of Vine and Mcnamara. Their dribbling from the flanks drew several fouls from the Thailand defenders. However, the resulting set pieces were easily defended.
As the game wore on the new-look team began to find a rhythm. Combinations became more frequent and Thailand were fortunate to concede just the once.
Nevin looks increasingly comfortable with each international cap and Grant did not look out of place at right back.
The issues of depth that effected the 2019 World Cup campaign look well on their way to being addressed.
PACKED DEFENCE AN ISSUE
An issue that Tony Gustavsson highlighted before the tournament was that The Matildas need to learn to break down crowded, committed defenses. All three of the group stage opponents have sat deep in numbers, often with 11 players behind the ball.
Against The Philippines, Australia depended on long passes to create chances. When trying to unlock Thailand’s defence, they were slightly more patient even if the interplay did not immediately pay off.
It was a fine individual effort from Emily van Egmond that opened the scoring. Australia’s first choice line up has plenty of players who can provide a moment of inspiration. But as an obsessive tactician Gustavsson will not want to rely on that in the group stages.
In the quarter finals, South Korea are unlikely to start the game as cautiously as Thailand did. However if Australia has to chase a lead they will need to overcome this lingering issue.
GIELNICK ABSENCE A MYSTERY
Very few players have the physical and technical attributes of Emily Gielnik. She is tall, fast strong, can dribble, and shoot from any range.
Holly Mcnamara came on in both previous groups games and when the young striker went off injured, Caitlin Foord replaced her.
Gielnik is consistently selected in Matildas squads and often makes an impact when she takes the field. She scored the first two goals of the Gustavsson era against Germany and in the Olympics with a rocket against the USA.
Her exact physical condition before kickoff was not known, and injuries have effected her time at Aston Villa. However, in a match where squad rotation was a priority, It is curious that Gielnik was not called upon sooner than the 76th minute.
Australia: 2 (Emily van Egmond 39m) Sam Kerr (81m)
Thailand: 1 (Panyosuk 94m)