After being left to play all three of their group stage fixtures without Sam Kerr, the Matildas progressed to the round-of-sixteen – albeit rather unconvincingly. In doing so, Tony Gustavsson’s side earned themselves a mouthwatering knockout tie against Denmark, who had finished second to the Lionesses in Group D.
AUS: Arnold; Catley, Kennedy, Hunt, Carpenter; Foord, Cooney-Cross, Gorry, Raso; van Egmond, Fowler
DEN: Christensen, Veje, Boye, Ballisager, Sevecke; Kühl, Holmgaard; Madsen, Harder, Thomsen; Vangsgaard
In front of a sizeable home crowd, Denmark looked to take a shock lead in the opening stages – with Katrine Veje managing the first shot on target after just a minute, though Mackenzie Arnold was never really troubled by the strike, and saved the Everton defender’s effort with ease.
Karen Holmgaard looked to be the driving force in the Danish midfield fifteen minutes later, progressing further up the pitch before sending Amalie Vangsgaard through on goal. From the edge of the box, she looked sure to score – but blasted her curling effort straight into the arms of Mackenzie Arnold.
But just before the half-hour mark, it was the Matildas that found the lead – much to the delight of the home support. Following a rapid break, Mary Fowler looked to curl a pass to Caitlin Foord. The Arsenal star drove infield, unleashing a composed effort that sailed through the legs of Lene Christensen and into the back of the net.
Despite their best efforts, the Danish side simply couldn’t find a response before the break, meaning it was the Australians that held the advantage at half-time. A strong showing would be required from both sides in the second half, and it looked as though the Danes would bring themselves level after ten minutes – but Mackenzie Arnold did well to intercept Kathrine Kühl’s defence-splitting pass that was intended for Rikke Madsen.
With twenty minutes remaining though, the Matildas doubled their lead through Hayley Raso. A neat one-two between Kyra Cooney-Cross and Mary Fowler saw the latter fire a shot towards goal, though it was blocked and fell to the feet of Emily van Egmond. The striker opted to selflessly find Hayley Raso, with the new Real Madrid signing rifling an effort past Lene Christensen to extend the Aussie advantage.
Their opponents weren’t giving up easily though, and Janni Thomsen looked to tee up Pernille Harder with a dinked ball into the box – but a crowded penalty area left the Bayern Munich forward with no space to shoot.
But as the final whistle blew in Sydney, it was the home side that progressed to the quarterfinals – confirming their participation in the final eight as they prepare to face either France or Morocco. Should the Matildas secure a win in that match, this will become their most successful campaign, having reached the quarterfinals in 2007, 2011 and 2015.