On Sunday afternoon in San Diego, CA, Australia and Japan took on each other in a clash of young teams looking for confidence and experience in their time in the first iteration of the USA-hosted Tournament of Nations. Both teams came in with squads that had a lot of talent, but were reacting to the pressure of a top tournament in different ways. Australia gutted out a monumental win against the FIFA #1 USWNT earlier in the week behind a staunch performance by goalkeeper Lydia Williams and the opportunistic offensive pouncing of Tameka Butt to give the Matilda’s the 1-0 win. Japan looked somewhat more vulnerable against Brazil, conceding an equalizer late into the game to end their first match 1-1.
Going with the youngsters
While one might expect Australia to try to recreate their initial victory with the same lineup as the one presented against the United States, but they stayed true to their ethos of a youth movement, particularly in giving 23 year old Mackenzie Arnold the start in goal, a large order after Williams was so dominant in the previous match. This game also gave the Matilda’s the opportunity to focus more on feeding Sky Blue’s Sam Kerr, with her upfield partner Lisa De Vanna being swapped out for the Portland Thorns’ Hayley Raso in the starting lineup. Kerr’s club form had been unassailable in past weeks, but her presence in the USA match was ultimately left off the score-sheet. Japan was also looking for further relevance past their initial match – Australia was the squad that knocked them out of Olympic Qualifying in early 2016, pushing them towards their re-shuffling process that they’ve been embroiled in since.
Sam Kerr's half to remember
The match started very quickly, when Japan scored a quick goal in the opening minutes off of a corner kick in the 6th minute, by way of Mina Tanaka. Australia wasted little time in looking for the equalizer, with Raso (who has brought an estimable amount of energy to Australia’s side in this tournament) found a streaking Kerr to tap in an equalizer. Only five minutes laster, Kerr used her quickness to turn her mark and curl a shot past Japan keeper Sakiko Ikeda to earn herself a brace. As the half went on, the Matildas moved into their patented press that had harried the Americans earlier in the week, and a third Australian goal seemed imminent. Who would it come from other than Kerr, who again used her pace to get one-on-one against the Japanese keeper, and slot a goal home, completing her hat trick before the first half had even ended. The half ultimately ended 3-1, with Australia moving comfortably in the drivers seat.
Australia in the drivers seat
The second half also started with the Matildas on the front foot, not allowing the normally sharp Nadeshiko to pass around their pressure with the ease they were used to. Soon enough Australia was up 4-1, courtesy of a tough handball called on Yui Hasegawa in the Japanese box, that was calmly slotted home by Emily Van Egmond. Japan were able to pull one back in the dying minutes of the match when a nice bit of passing found its way to Yuka Momiki, who grabbed a late consolation for their squad who were thoroughly dismantled by an Australian squad that looks poised to take the whole tournament.