Matildas on top from the off
Australia took an early lead as Katrina Gorry squared the ball across goal, Lisa De Vanna first to latch on before powering the ball into the roof of the net inside of 70 seconds. Despite their advantage the Matildas started to get sloppy in possession, too comfortable in the game, not feeling the need to force the issue.
After a flurry of set pieces Australia grabbed their second as Claire Polkinghorne was the first to make contact at a corner to divert the ball over the line and into the net. The Matildas having struck gold with both shots on target they’d managed. The goal seemed to light a fire under both teams as the Might Warriors did their best to flock forward and the Matildas stepped up their game to hit the opposition with more focused attacks.
Australia would have been feeling hard done-by half-way through the first-half when Chido Dzingirai made a first rate save to get down low and tip an Emily van Egmond free kick around the post. The resulting corner had everyone in the stands holding their breath as Dzingirai missed her catch and the ball was loose in the box, first rebounding off of Polkinghorne’s face before pinging between green and yellow shirts, the Matildas unable to nudge the ball over the line.
With Australia getting comfortable once more the Might Warriors launched another attack, Rejoice Kapfumvuti chasing a long ball but helpless to stop it as Mackenzie Arnold was sharp to race out of her goal and clear the danger.
Zimbabwe were still giving Australia plenty to think about when they ventured forward, all the neutrals in the ground well behind the team ranked 95 in the current FIFA standings. However the experienced Australian backline was sharp enough to deal with their growing attacks though the midfield looked like it could get caught out on the counter every time green shirts moved forward.
The Matilda’s attacks, whilst not as bright as they usually are were still providing plenty of fruit as the Mighty Warriors were forced to concede corner after corner. Elise Kellond-Knight’s delivery at set-pieces possibly the greatest weapon in their arsenal in this match, Australia’s third goal coming through one of her corner deliveries. Alanna Kennedy up from the back, rose well over her marker to nod the ball through Dzingirai’s open arms at point-blank range.
When it rains…
With Australia looking to ease their way through the second-half, Zimbabwe were still looking sharp and pacey on the counter, Kudakwashe Basopo did well to break through the backline but instead of taking the ball further opted to test Arnold from distance. An easy enough claim for the Perth Glory ‘keeper, but a reminder that the Mighty Warriors weren’t done just yet.
But just like that the Matildas added a fourth, Steph Catley’s perfectly weighted through-ball cut through the defence. With Dzingirai advancing out of her goal, Kyah Simon had just to knock it past the unfortunate keeper to further bolster their goal-difference.
Still Australia flocked forward in numbers, yellow and green shirts filling the last third, Brazilian colours aptly combining in attack. Though Zimbabwe did all they could to block and dispel Australia’s frequent attacks they couldn’t stop from conceding corners and found themselves down yet another goal as they failed to clear another Kellond-Knight corner.
Michelle Heyman who’d been on the field for just three minutes as the next to beat the African side as her header flew past Dzingirai and into the goal. The damage more than done before the hour mark and the news could only get worse for the Mighty Warriors as Dzingirai needed to be stretched off after an innocuous looking clash at the set-piece.
With their opponents tiring, Australia were finding it easier to thread balls through the tired defence, Heyman the beneficiary as she picked the ball up on the left of the box before running in and stroking the ball past replacement goalkeeper Lindiwe Magwede.
However the game was not completely one-sided as the Mighty Warriors kept streaking forward, using their pace against a complacent Australian backline, Arnold a match to everything Zimbabwe could throw at her.
With the game winding down Australia were still keen to get forward and give themselves every chance of reaching the next round and forced Magwede into a number of saves to keep them out.
It took 91 minutes but Zimbabwe finally unlocked the Australian defence and found the right ball to beat Arnold. Starting in their own half, Marjory Nyaumew backheeled the ball to Eunice Chibanda who chipped the ball to Emmaculate Msipa.
Msipa nutmegged Kennedy to find Nyaumwe who’d continued her run, Nyaumwe rolled the ball past a backpeddling Kennedy back to Msipa. The striker continued on the outside of Polkinghore before slotting the ball past an advancing Arnold, the ball skipping off of the turf before going in off of the post. A beautifully worked team goal for an entire nation to be proud of.
From joy to dismay for Zimabwe as Sheila Makoto needed to be stretched off deep in extra time and the Mighty Warriors were forced to see out the last moments with ten men.
Might Warriors battle to the end
Although a place in the next round was just too much to ask of the African side, they Might Warriors lived up to their name and keep fighting, refusing to wilt or bend under the pressure. Placed in a group with the two of the top five ranked teams in the world (and three of the top ten), their task in Rio was always going to be a hard one but they rose to the occasion and put in a respectable performance, consistently carrying a degree of threat on the counter.
Zimbabwe can be proud of what their women’s team achieved in their first every Olympic outing and hopefully the 18 who travelled to Brazil have helped to grow the game back home.
Australia below their best
The win was a commanding one for the Antipodean side though they never hit full speed, forward in numbers but surprisingly lacking a cutting edge. Possibly coming into the game a little underwhelmed, eyeing an easy win the defenders looked disinterested, unwilling to stay focused and switched on for the duration.
Alen Stajcic will be pleased his side got the job thoroughly done without too much trouble although will be left asking a lot more of them should they progress.