Italy worked hard for its win, but honestly could have scored five goals. The Matildas need a total rethink.
Italy pulled off one of the biggest upsets in women’s World Cup history on Sunday, beating the heavily favored Australians, 2-1. By the stats, you might guess that Australia was the much better team, and that Italy got lucky. The Italians scored twice, but only recorded five shots. That’s usually a pretty good defensive performance.
But this game featured a bit of a strange circumstance: Australia was playing an ultra-aggressive offside trap with slow central defenders, and it only just barely worked. Italy had two goals controversially disallowed for narrow offside calls, plus a VAR penalty review for handball inexplicably denied. Italy could have very easily scored five goals.
As my very smart colleagues Michael Caley and Aaron West put it…
when you’re having chance after chance pulled back for the last attacker being a foot or so offside, you are getting lucky not defending well https://t.co/Rf6MA47b4E
— Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) June 9, 2019
Australia’s defending on both Italy goals was very, very bad. They were gifts.
Australia vs Italy had it all!
— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 9, 2019
This was, to some degree, anticipated. The Australians gave up five goals to the United States and three to the Netherlands in warm-up matches for this World Cup. This website listed them as the most entertaining team to watch specifically because they stink at defense.
But popular consensus was that Australia’s other qualities would be more important than its deficiencies in the group stage. The Matildas should be able to win shootouts with their superior athleticism, experience, and superstar Sam Kerr. And yet, they looked completely baffled by a team playing a deep 4-5-1 and a fast counter-attacking style, which is just about the most obvious and basic tactic to use against a team like Australia. The Aussies should have been well-prepared for it.
It’s much more fun and fulfilling to praise underdog winners than it is to trash favorites who disappoint, but Italy didn’t do anything special. Australia was just very bad, and in the most predictable way too. It now has to consider dramatic lineup and tactical changes.