The Matildas have crashed out of the Women’s World Cup, losing to Norway in a penalty shootout after scores were locked at 1-1 after extra time.
In a tense, dramatic and controversial affair, Australia looked to be mounting another trademark comeback, before Alanna Kennedy was sent off in the 104th minute to turn the tide in favour of the Norwegians.
From there it was a case of hanging on grimly for penalties for the Matildas, but when the shootout arrived it was hard to watch for Australian fans. Sam Kerr’s terrible miss got things off to a bad start, and they never recovered.
In normal time, the Europeans went ahead through a superb Isabell Herlovsen strike in the first half, before Elise Kellond-Knight scored directly from a corner to even things up in the second term.
Australia seemed to have the momentum and the legs to finish over the top of their tiring opponents, but a dubious decision to send off Kennedy meant they switched from hunter to prey in the blink of an eye.
All over, red-card rover
It took until the 83rd minute for Australia to equalise against Norway’s 30th-minute goal.
In the long minutes leading up to it, Norway sat deep in defence, playing a compact, pressurised game but in no rush to extend their lead.
It played out like clockwork: The Australian defenders brought the ball to the halfway line, passed it forward to the midfielders and attackers, who would ping pong the ball back and forth in an attempt to loosen Norway’s defence.
An eventual opportunity would open up, but too brief for any result. Norway would clear the ball back to the Australian defence at halfway and the process would begin again.
The tables turned when Emily Gielnik was subbed on to replace Hayley Raso.
Gielnik recognised the patterns in the Norwegian defence, so instead of attempting her trademark crosses from the right-hand corner, opted to instead kick the ball into her mirroring defender to win corners off the deflection.
It was this tactic that gave Kellond-Knight the opportunity score from a beautiful low corner kick that spun cleanly through the legs of every player to curl into the net at the far post.
From that moment, the game turned frantic.
Heavy touches, high balls, and fouls abounded, keeping the score level throughout the final minutes of regulation play and the full duration of extra time.
A potential foul against Kerr in the box was overlooked by the referee, and clearly unsettled the team.
Not long after, defender-in-chief Kennedy was red-carded for a shirt pull against Lisa-Marie Utland that was deemed to have prevented a potential goal in the 103rd minute, and that was when the Matildas unravelled.
Regardless, Australia seemed confident going into the penalty shootout, but a rare blunder by Kerr, missing the goal altogether, set the tone for the rest of Australia’s shots.
Gielnik placed her ball well but didn’t get enough power to it to beat the keeper. Steph Cately broke from the mould and got one through, but it wasn’t enough to overcome the Norwegian’s consistently perfect strikes.
Speaking after the game, captain Kerr said the Matildas dominated the second half. While on a surface level, this was true, it’s only because Norway let them.
“It sucks to lose in a penalty shootout, but we’ll learn from this and we’ll grow from it,” Kerr said.
“I feel like we’ve let some people down.
“A lot of the girls have sacrificed so much to be here. It has been a little bit of a rollercoaster ride to be here, but I’m so proud of the girls.”
See how the action unfolded in our live blog:
Matildas v Norway live blog