CommBank Matildas complete World Cup preparations in style

The CommBank Matildas finished their preparations for the FIFA Women’s World Cup™ in style, defeating France 1-0 in front of a record crowd of 50,629 at an electric Marvel Stadium in Melbourne. Mary Fowler, a half-time substitute, scored the only goal of the game.

Both sides started off with close to first-choice teams as they finalised their preparation for the World Cup. Beyond the result it was vital minutes in the legs, and the final chance for coaching staff to tinker with formations and tactics.

The game started off at a frenetic pace. The CommBank Matildas lined up in their now familiar 4-4-2 formation, hoping to use the straight-line speed of Hayley Raso and Cortnee Vine to complement the quality of Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord in the centre. When in possession, all four players sat on the French defensive line hoping to find a way in behind.

Les Bleues were immediately on the back foot in the face of the onslaught. It took less than two minutes for the first dangerous Foord-Kerr linkup, while Vine and Raso were a constant threat.

Caitlin Foord in particular had a lot of joy in the space between France’s defence and attack, exploiting a midfield missing the experienced Amandine Henry through injury.

Kenza Dali’s shot in the 17th minute forced Mackenzie Arnold into her first significant save of the match. It clattered off her chest after the shot was firmly struck from close range, and the Australian defence scrambled it away to safety.

Clare Hunt was instrumental to keeping France scoreless. In the 20th minute, she put her body on the line to block a shot after a firmly struck Grace Geyoro volley. Hunt once again impressed in only her sixth appearance in the green and gold.

Australia’s best opportunity in the first half came in the 25th minute. A lovely ball from Kerr found Katrina Gorry, who played it on to Foord. The No9 managed to get away from her defender but was blocked at the last by France’s goalkeeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin.

Despite the Australians having most of the running in the first half, shots were hard to come by. Marshalled by the experienced Wendie Renard, Sam Kerr and co were kept to only two shots in the first half, compared to France’s eight.

Sam Kerr of the Matildas leads her team out during the International Friendly match between the Australia Matildas and France at Marvel Stadium on July 14, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
Sam Kerr of the Matildas leads her team out during the International Friendly match between the Australia Matildas and France at Marvel Stadium on July 14, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)

Half time saw Mary Fowler enter the game in place of Cortnee Vine. It meant a tweak in the way that the team was playing, with less of an emphasis on balls over the top and more on midfield play. Estelle Cascarino entered the pitch for France in place of Elisa De Almeida.

France immediately looked more threatening after the break. They forced a turnover in the 50th minute after Kyra Cooney-Cross dallied on the ball, creating an opportunity for Kadidiatou Diani that was sliced wide.

However, Australia continued to create opportunities of their own. Katrina Gorry found a way to slice through the defence with a scintillating solo run, winning a corner that petered out.

Understandably, the game fell in intensity as it wore on, both teams with one eye to the World Cup that kicks off in six days. There were hints of disquiet among the crowd as Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord were subbed off in the 62nd minute to make way for Tameka Yallop and Emily van Egmond. However, fans didn’t have to wait long to see the goal that they had come to witness.

In the 66th minute, Hayley Raso found a way in behind the French defence after a neat one-two with Kyra Cooney-Cross and squared it to Mary Fowler. Fowler was unmarked on the penalty spot, took a touch, and calmly placed it beyond Peyraud-Magnin. It was the 20-year-old’s tenth goal in CommBank Matildas colours.

The last 25 minutes of regulation time were about containment for Australia. The formation shifted again in the 83rd minute, with the introduction of Aivi Luik for Tameka Yallop necessitating a move to what looked like a 5-3-2.

She lined up alongside Clare Polkinghorne and Courtney Nevin who had come onto the pitch five minutes earlier. Coach Tony Gustavsson will be particularly pleased that his side managed to keep a clean sheet in the face of an ever-changing back line.

France’s best chance to equalise came in the 85th minute. Geyoro found herself free in the box after receiving a cutback from a teammate. Fortunately for Australia, she was unable to connect with the pass, and the CommBank Matildas were able to keep the clean sheet.

The game ended on a sombre note after what looked like a serious ankle injury to France’s Selma Bacha, who was fantastic at keeping Ellie Carpenter quiet for most of the night.

The CommBank Matildas have now won nine of their last ten games, and this result against world number five France will feature among the best of them. The result will buoy fans ahead of what will be the biggest FIFA Women’s World Cup in history.