Matildas’ World Cup in peril after shock 3-2 loss to Nigeria

Matildas take on Nigeria in World Cup thriller

The Matildas will have to fight hard to stay in the World Cup after a disastrous defeat against Nigeria on Thursday night.

The 3-2 loss means the Australians will likely have to beat Olympic champion Canada on Monday to avoid a shock group stage exit.

And they will have to contemplate whether to use injured superstar captain Sam Kerr – or risk exiting the tournament without her playing a single minute.

The Matildas had a promising start to Thursday night’s clash in Brisbane when Emily van Egmond, who replaced the concussed Mary Fowler, guided home the opening goal.

But Nigeria took the wind out of Australia’s sails five minutes later when Uchenna Kanu equalised.

Barely 20 minutes later Australia’s game had fallen to pieces as Nigeria took over and there was no Kerr there to dig them out of the hole.

In the second half, Australia’s attack failed to capitalise on chances while its defence lapsed in front of 49,156 fans.

Australia’s Emily van Egmond tussles with Nigeria’s Christy Ucheibe. Photo: Getty

Australia now sits third in Group B behind Nigeria and Canada.

It means a draw against the world No.7 Canadians in Melbourne on Monday likely won’t be enough to reach the round of 16.

Had the Matildas secured a win against Nigeria, they would have locked in progression with a game to spare and could have rested Kerr in the last game.

Even a draw would have given them some room to move.

When asked whether she had any hope of having Kerr play, strike partner Caitlin Foord bluntly said: “That’s the plan.”

Coach Tony Gustavsson could only offer: “All I can say now is that I hope so’.

“I know it’s going to be tight. Most likely not getting confirmation on that until the night before the game and we’ll go from there.

“It might even be we have to test her on game day. That’s how tight it is.
Kerr will be putting her hand up to play.

“Of course she will. That’s going to be her mindset and that’s what I love about Sam,” Gustavsson said.

“She’s going to give anything she can to be out there.

“She deserves to be out there and if she can be out there she will be out there.

“We have to come up with a plan together to see what’s the best to maximise the minutes she has if she’s available.”

Mary Fowler should return from concussion and will be a welcome inclusion after the Matildas largely lacked a clinical edge against Nigeria.

Fowler and Aivi Luik were both ruled out after suffering concussions in separate incidents in Tuesday’s closed training.

The pair joined Kerr and veteran striker Kyah Simon (knee) on the sidelines.

Australia will also need to take a good hard look at their defence after conceding three sloppy goals.

“I’m actually not that disappointed about the performance, but I’m disappointed by the result,” Gustavsson said.

“The attacking game was much, much improved compared to the Ireland game which I’m happy about.

“The second ball game [in defence] cost us three goals. We knew they had threats and it was costly.”

Costly mistake?

Coach Gustavsson questioned his own timing of substitutions in the costly loss.

The coach didn’t make a change until the 82nd minute and it was a funky one at that, central defender Clare Polkinghorne replacing winger Cortnee Vine.

Forward Alex Chidiac was introduced three minutes later and the Matildas eventually got one back when Alanna Kennedy pushed forward and headed home.

Chidiac, Caitlin Foord and Ellie Carpenter all then had shots saved or miss narrowly in the final minutes as the Africans held on.

“I know it can look strange when you take an attacker off and put a defender on,” Gustavsson said post-game.

“We were very, very close. We could have scored four goals in the last 10 minutes.

“Alanna is a brilliant attacking option and Polks’ attributes on set plays and her winning mentality; she’s scored tons of game winners from set plays.

“It’s something we’ve played and prepared for.”

The coach conceded though that he may have pulled his levers too late.

“Did we get that because I did it in the right moment, or should I have done it earlier and we could have played longer with that positive effect?” he posed.

“The No.1 challenge is to find the right answer before you know whether it’s right or wrong.

“We had momentum and sometimes when you want to sub you don’t want to disrupt the momentum.

“I’m going to review whether I did it too late or not.”

Described as a “brilliant game-changer” by her coach, Chidiac admitted she was itching to see some action and shattered not to provide the game-changing goal when finally deployed.

“I think that’s every player sitting on the bench – they always want to get on the field, we always want to help our team out,” Chidiac said.

“But you never go against what the coach says. He knows what he’s doing clearly and he’s got a game plan and all of us follow that.

“We’re all one team at the end of the day, and whatever role I have to play in this World Cup I’m going to play it the best of my ability.”

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