Australia manager Tony Gustavsson hailed his players’ performance in their 4-1 win over South Africa and credited their move to Europe with giving them more time to prepare for friendlies international players ahead of their home World Cup next summer.
The meeting between Australia and South Africa at Kingsmeadow in the south-west suburbs of London may seem strange, but of the 22 Australians in Gustavsson’s squad, only two ply their trade at home.
Nine play in Gustavsson’s home country of Sweden, while seven play in England, with Kingsmeadow-based striker Sam Kerr with Chelsea.
It was ironic, then, that there was no Kerr in Australia’s starting XI, with the Chelsea striker on the bench after being ill during the week. The crowd was also dotted with Arsenal shirts, as Gunners fans came out to show their support for Caitlin Foord and Steph Catley.
“We love playing at home in Australia, especially in a World Cup year – making that connection with the fans and doing it together with the football community back home,” Gustavsson said. “So in that sense it’s important that we play in Australia. From a football preparation perspective, it’s huge that we have these camps in Europe.
“We now had five days of training compared to the last training camp in Australia where we had two and a half days. It was massive. You could see that. was the strongest performance.
Desiree Ellis’ South Africa were without key players including captain Janine van Wyk and Racing Louisville’s Thembi Kgatlana. In the absence of Kerr Sydney FC’s Cortnee Vine, one of two squad members who play their domestic football in the Women’s A-League, led the line for the Matildas.
Its impact was swift. A Catley corner five minutes later was returned on goal by Lyonnaise Mary Fowler’s header. The ball returned from a post after slipping through the hands of goalkeeper Regirl Ngobeni and Vine, 24, crossed the line from close range.
His first international goal was followed by his second less than 20 minutes later. A wonderful brush pass from Catley found Foord, who put the ball in the middle and Vine sent a neat back heel volley.
Yes, Vine was scoring against a team ranked 54th in the world, 42 places below Australia, but she was lively and powerful when called upon.
Shortly before half-time, Australia had a third, with a Catley corner perfectly directed by centre-back Clare Polkinghorne.
It was a dominant and endemic Australian performance, but South Africa was far from bad. There’s a reason the Banyana Banyana rose to the top of African football, having won the 2022 Women’s Africa Cup of Nations, and the scoreline could have been far more damaging.
In the second half South Africa were tighter at the back but Foord scored a fourth goal, recovering from Catley before skating without Bambanani Mbane and sending a low shot into the far corner. Kerr came in for an appearance in the 83rd minute, with the crowd ecstatic as she arrived.
With two minutes of regulation time remaining, South Africa was rewarded for their performance in combat. A goal kick was pushed past Polkinghorne by substitute Melinda Kgadiete into Hildah Magaia’s run and the striker, seeing goalkeeper Teagan Micah bewildered far forward, lifted the ball over and inside.
“We were looking for improved performance, it’s not where we wanted to be but it’s step by step and I felt we got better,” Ellis said.