Norway have progressed to the quarter-final stage of the Women’s World Cup after an enthralling game at the Allianz Riviera.
The tantalising affair ended in a penalty shootout where the Norwegians scored four and Australia just one.
Maren Mjelde’s side now face either England or Cameroon.
Full throttle from the off
It was all Australia in the first ten minutes of play, with Sam Kerr causing serious problems for the Norwegian defence.
The Aussie captain had a chance one minute in as the Matildas looked to attack with intent straight from kick-off, she flicked the ball through Maren Mjelde’s legs with aplomb but the end product was rushed and fell wide.
Kerr was amongst the action once again as she linked with Hayley Raso on the right flank, Raso interchanged with Kerr intelligently, however the former’s strike was directed straight at Ingrid Hjelmseth.
With 20 minutes on the clock, Norway had settled into the game and started to dictate the flow. Their faster, more direct play was rewarded as Isabell Herlovsen finished past Lydia Willliams, following a delightful Karina Saevik pass.
It’s not a World Cup match if there’s no VAR involved and the first-half was no different. A ball was flashed into the box for Maria Thorisdottir to clear, but with no hesitation referee Riem Hussein pointed to the penalty spot for a handball. As Kerr stood over the ball, totally concentrated on dispatching her spot-kick, there remained much debate on the decision. After a period of two minutes, Hussein eventually looked at the video screen and reversed her original call.
A goal back for the Matildas
Norway continued to utilise their counter attacking game plan, and Guro Reiten sent Caroline Graham Hansen through on goal, however her powerful strike couldn’t beat Williams.
The Aussies were then convinced that they’d equalised after Kerr curled the ball around Hjelmseth, but it was correctly ruled out as Kerr was offside.
It took a while, but the Australian pressure paid off in the 83rd minute. Strangely though, it came in peculiar fashion. Elise Kellond-Knight fizzed in a cross towards the front post which flew past every single player in the box and curled into the very bottom left-hand corner.
The game looked destined for extra-time, and that outcome was so close to being changed, as Graham Hansen sent a curled effort from the corner of the penalty area towards the bottom right-hand corner. Her shot hit one post and rolled across the face of goal begging for someone to be there, but Australia’s luck was in and the ball was swept away to safety.
This was the first time that Australia had ever played extra-time at a Women’s World Cup, and boy was it exciting.
Superstar strikers, Kerr and Graham Hansen, utilised their formidable pace to get in behind the tiring defences. Norway’s No.10 had by far the clearest opportunity, yet Williams stood strong and saved her country countless times.
This game had absolutely everything but a red card. Well, that was until, Alanna Kennedy wrestled Lisa-Marie Utland to the ground, and the Aussie centre-back was sent for an early bath, following what was deemed to be a clear goalscoring opportunity.
A minute later and the bar was clattered, two yellow cards had been received, and even a foul throw-in. The fans nor the players could quite contemplate what they were seeing. There was no time to breathe, pause or understand what was happening at the Allianz Riviera.
With that dismissal in mind, the Matildas looked to cling on to the result they had and hope for the best in a penalty shootout. Every single one of them put their body on the line to prevent the Norwegian’s from capitalising.
One could tell the excitement that this penalty shootout was about to bring with the flock of fans racing to find a seat behind the goal with plenty of empty seats.
Graham Hansen put the Norway team at ease with her cultured finish for the first penalty. Far different to what Kerr did for her Matildas as she shanked her spot-kick high and wide.
Reiten scored by going the same right-hand side that Graham Hansen had, but it was all misery for the Aussies as Emily Gielnik also missed her chance.
Mjelde dispatched her spot-kick and the Matildas did manage to score one through Steph Catley.
Ingrid Syrstad Engen was the one to send Norway to the quarter-finals.
VAR is having a monumental effect on this tournament, as it did in the Men’s World Cup in 2018. There still seems to be a degree of misunderstanding with players and the media, and its something that needs to be levelled out. Yes, it does add more drama, but is it actually benefiting the game?
Mjelde vs Kerr was a battle that remained a constant throughout. The latter got the better of the Chelsea defender early on, however after that she was taking no prisoners when it came to removing any danger.
Norway’s other central defender, Thorisdottir, was a colossus. She was immense and timed every challenge to perfection, stopping Kerr on a considerable number of occasions.