Discover more from Flying Geese
Day 12: Not a Kerr in the world
Australia make it through and Japan humiliate Spain
Canada 0 - Australia 4
This match was billed as the biggest in Australian football history with the build-up laser focused on whether Sam Kerr would play any role in it. In the end the Matildas showed that they did not need her anyway as Tony Gustavsson’s exceptionally organised team tore Canada apart to win 4-0 and finish top of Group A.
There are a couple of different elements to how Australia won this game. The first was Gustavsson’s tactical shift to put Caitlin Foord out on the left wing. Recently for Australia we have seen Foord play in the front two with any one of Sam Kerr, Mary Fowler or Emily van Egmond, depending on fitness. Here Fowler and van Egmond played up front together, freeing up Foord to play on the left ahead of club teammate Steph Catley, with Cortnee Vine dropping to the bench. Their overlapping/underlapping combinations helped unlock Canada on multiple occasions.
Flying Geese is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Canada however were very poor. They repeatedly tried to play long with Christine Sinclair unable to hold up the ball whilst Ellie Carpenter stuck tight to Jordyn Huitema out on the left. When they did try and play through Australia, the lack of movement from Quinn and Julia Grosso made it easy for Katrina Gorry and Kyra Cooney-Cross to marshall them. Their defensive disorganisation was also to blame for both the first and third goal, whilst Kailen Sheridan being unable to claim a corner led to the third. Canada’s trump card has long been that whilst they might be limited when it comes to attacking, they are defensively solid. This was the first time that they had ever conceded four goals under Bev Priestman.
Priestman made four half-time substitutions, meaning across this whole group stage she has made 7 substitutions at that point in a match. It has looked less like a move of decisive management and more like the mark of someone who seemingly has no idea what their best team looks like. The front three in particular has been chopped and changed relentlessly. It was a disappointing end to a disjointed World Cup campaign for the current Olympic gold medallists.
Japan 4 - Spain 0
This match between the top two in Group C promised to show what both teams were actually made of as they had qualified with ease against Zambia and Costa Rica. Japan easily came out on top as they executed their game plan against Spain to perfection, leaving Jorge Vilda’s side battered and bruised as they head into the knockouts.
Spain had a ton of the ball in this match but Japan were more than comfortable to let them have it, sitting back in a 5-4-1 and using a clear pressing structure to limit how Spain could progress the ball. One Japanese player would cover Teresa Abelleira who had been so influential in those first two games forcing the centre backs to play out to the fullbacks. Those fullbacks would then be pressed so as to pass the ball back inside where Japan would make sure the area was suitably congested to stop Spain getting the ball anywhere dangerous. With Spain using Jenni Hermoso as a number 9, her tendency to drop into midfield only congested that area further, with Mariona Caldentey also liking to drift inside. Any width provided by Salma Paralluelo was robustly dealt with by the Japanese wing backs.
When it came to attacking, Japan broke quickly. This graphic with Japan’s first half touches is obviously fantastic but what it doesn’t show is just how ragged Spain’s defence looked in this game. The Japanese finishing was precise but their players also found themselves with time and space to decide what to do when the ball came to them. Some of that was a result of brilliance - see, for example, Jun Endo’s pass for the opener - but it also demonstrated the flaws in Spain’s defence. With the fullbacks looking to push up high, Irene Paredes and Rocio Galvez (Ivana Andres was unavailable for this match) have to cover a lot of ground.
Part of Spain’s issue here was they just did not really have an answer for what Japan were doing. Complaints have long been made about Jorge Vilda’s tactical capabilities and this match highlighted his total inability to react to what was going on and make the changes required. Spain are through and might even win their first ever knock-out match at an international tournament when they play Switzerland in the Round of 16, but this game showed that those familiar failings remain. Japan meanwhile have looked comfortably the best team in this World Cup, and have also used all their outfield players bar one. They are heading into the knock-outs well rested, confident, and the team to beat at this tournament.