Matildas open Olympics campaign on the perfect note

DELIGHT: Samantha Kerr (2) celebrates with her Matildas teammates after scoring against New Zealand on Wednesday night at Tokyo Stadium. Picture: AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan
DELIGHT: Samantha Kerr (2) celebrates with her Matildas teammates after scoring against New Zealand on Wednesday night at Tokyo Stadium. Picture: AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan

There had been question marks over the Matildas' firepower as they boarded a plane to Tokyo. It took them 45 minutes to put those concerns to bed on Wednesday night, kicking off their Olympic campaign with a 2-1 win over New Zealand.

The Aussies had looked lacklustre since Tony Gustavsson took over the helm, scoring four goals in their past five friendlies. However - led by captain Samantha Kerr, Steph Catley and Hayley Raso - they looked lively from the outset at an empty Tokyo Stadium, opening up a two-goal advantage by half time.

Fans back home in Australia rose as one in their living rooms to celebrate Tameka Yallop's goal in the 20th minute, before Kerr's header doubled their lead leading into the break.

The Aussies had plenty of chances to score in the second half, but were unable to find the back of the net. Substitute Gabi Rennie mustered a late consolation goal for the Football Ferns.

It was the Matildas' first win since March 2020 and set up their Tokyo campaign perfectly, after Sweden surprised powerhouse USA 3-0 in the same group on Wednesday.

"It's always good to win your first game, I think it gives you a lot of confidence going into the rest of the tournament. Like I've said before, this is just one step in our journey so we will focus and review tonight, and our head goes straight to the next game," Kerr told Channel Seven after the game.

"Like I've said before, everything was for this moment. We feel as prepared as ever. The results before didn't go our way, but it was all for this game. We've got the three points and we'll move on."

New Zealand's CJ Bott and Australia's Caitlin Foord battle for the ball. Picture: AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan

New Zealand's CJ Bott and Australia's Caitlin Foord battle for the ball. Picture: AP Photo/Ricardo Mazalan

The Matildas dominated possession and had plenty of half-chances in the opening 20 minutes on Wednesday night, but couldn't capitalise as New Zealand scrambled in defence.

However, the reward came when an errant New Zealand pass opened the door for the Matildas in the 20th minute, with a lovely flick on from Kerr setting up Yallop to beat the goalkeeper and fire the ball into the back of the net.

The Aussies continued to press hard. From a corner, Catley's curling pass found Kerr's head inside the box, and she didn't miss to give her side a 2-0 lead after 35 minutes.

Gustavsson's side were dominant for the remainder of the half, but couldn't extend their two-goal advantage at the break.

The Matildas kept their foot to the floor after half time, with Kyah Simon and Caitlin Foord nearly finding the back of the net.

Aussie fans then momentarily held their breath midway through the half when goalkeeper Lydia Williams was out of position at the back, but Ellie Carpenter scrambled to deny the Football Ferns.

New Zealand looked lively in attack for the remainder of the half and were rewarded in added time when Rennie's header beat a diving Williams. The Matildas then survived a nervous final 60 seconds to secure the victory.

Australia will look to continue that winning momentum when they face Group G leaders Sweden on Saturday, before facing the USA next Tuesday night.

This story Matildas open Olympics campaign on the perfect note first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.