Monday, May 31, 2010
The First Champions
To win any proper continental championship (pace Oceania) is a major achievement, but to triumph in a very strong confederation, in difficult conditions, without three key players, is just fantastic.
There were plenty of heart-in-mouth moments last night. Clare Polkinghorne's agonising miss, just after the Koreans had equalised; Sam Kerr's looping cross to no-one when a simple prod across to Kate Gill would surely have put Australia 2-0 up; and, last but not least, the three excellent chances that fell to the Koreans in extra time, when the exhaustion began to catch up with Tom Sermanni's charges.
Indeed, there were times during the second half (particularly the opening fifteen minutes) when North Korea looked likely to overrun the Matildas, who lost control of the midfield and were fortunate that many of the crosses from the team in red drifted harmlessly over the byline. On the whole, the Koreans looked technically the better side, and one could say that perhaps the Matildas were favoured by the appalling conditions, although Korean women's teams have made light of such heavy surfaces in the past.
But as against Japan in the semi-final, the fighting qualities of the Matildas counted for a great deal, as did the maturity and concentration of the younger brigade. Elise Kellond-Knight did particularly well patrolling the left side of defence, towards which the Koreans directed many of their midfield moves. Sam Kerr's calm finish for the Australian goal belied her age and relative lack of experience. And Kyah Simon...
Let us not understate the achievement. Australia entered the Asian confederation expecting to fill the trophy cabinet fairly quickly, but the men's teams have been less than convincing on the whole. By contrast, the Matildas have reached two senior continental finals since the move from Oceania, succeeding at the second attempt.
It is traditional to express some sympathy for the losing finalists, particularly after a penalty shootout. However, given the Koreans' despicable antics in their recent friendly against the same opponents, I can only offer them a message similar to that directed at certain Argentinian journalists by Diego Maradona a few months ago.
It's occurred to me a few times throughout this campaign how cool it is that I've seen so many of the girls play in the W-League down at Ballymore, either for the Roar or against. It's a real connect.