Australia scores wild comeback win over Brazil in Women's World Cup
MONTPELLIER -- It was never going to be anything else. When the Australian and Brazilian women meet in international play, the matches are intense, physical and unforgettable. Depending on who's telling the story, they're also heartbreaking.
Four years ago, Australia knocked Brazil out of this tournament in the round of 16. One year later, Brazil sent the Matildas packing from the Rio Olympics in the quarters. At the end of Thursday night's heartstopper, which many were calling the Miracle in Montpellier, the seesaw swung back the Matildas' way. After coming back from a two-goal deficit, Australia celebrated a 3-2 win and new life in this tournament.
"There were a lot of critics talking about us, but we're back, so suck on that one," said Aussie captain Sam Kerr, rarely one to edit herself from saying precisely what's on her mind, after the match. "We don't listen to the haters. I love these girls. They're something else. From our reaction, you can see what it means to us. We knew we were a top-10 team. Now we're back in it. And we sent a message to the rest of the world."
-- Kerr hits back at 'haters' after Matildas win
-- VAR aids Australia's three-goal rally over Brazil
-- What it's like to play against (and with) Brazil's Marta
-- Women's World Cup 2019: Everything you need to know
Brazil came into this tournament on a nine-game losing streak, but into this game riding the high of a 3-0 defeat of Jamaica on Sunday and carrying one of the most astonishing records of the tournament: The Seleção hadn't conceded a goal in group play since 2003.
For its part, Australia arrived at Stade de la Mosson having won its last four games against Brazil but needing a win after a shocking 2-1 upset by Italy in the final moments of extra play four nights ago.
A lot changed Thursday night in Montpellier, as the Matildas became only the second team in Women's World Cup history to come back from two goals down to win a match (Sweden did it against Germany in 1995), and the first team to come back against Brazil in this tournament. Here's what we learned.
Australia is alive -- and could potentially top its group.
To call Thursday night's match a must-win was both slight hyperbole and entirely on the nose. Certainly, there were future scenarios that would have allowed the Matildas to slip into the knockout round, but those scripts relied on too many external plot points. Thursday night, the Matildas took control of their storyline.
"That win was for Ante [Milicic]," said midfielder Chloe Logarzo, who scored in the 58th minute on a long-range cross meant for Kerr. "The criticism is really on his behalf and it's disheartening for us to hear that because the amount of belief he's instilled in us, and the amount of work he's put in is incredible and I don't think people see that."
Added Kerr: "People don't understand the belief we have in this team, the confidence we have in each other, the belief we have in Ante. One game was not going to derail our World Cup hopes."
Marta still matters.
As the Women's World Cup all-time scoring leader and the only six-time FIFA Player of the Year, there is no question Brazil's captain is one of the greatest to ever play the game. But coming into this match, many questioned if she was even fit enough to play against Australia, let alone start.
Marta missed her squad's opener against Jamaica with a thigh injury and was named to the starting 11 just over an hour before the game. But concerns about her age (34), fitness and health vanished once she stepped onto the pitch.
Brazil's skipper was tireless, efficient and, after Leticia Santos drew a foul from Matildas midfielder Elise Kellond-Knight in the box, the first to score -- on a penalty kick in the 27th minute. That she was pulled along with Formiga before the start of the second half was questionable considering the Matildas were sure to come out of the change room with all the momentum, having opened their scoring in stoppage time just before the half.
Vadão might be questioning whether it would have been a better decision to open the second half with Marta's presence on the field, allow Brazil to settle and then sub her out.
Kerr matters, too, even when she doesn't score a goal.
Kerr is one of the most lethal strikers in the game, and she worries defenders. Her presence alone had a hand in two goals: Monica's own goal and Logarzo's long-range strike. Kerr threatened to get a foot on the ball just enough to slow the reaction from Brazilian goalkeeper Barbara, allowing Logarzo's cross to find the back of the net. On Monica's own goal, Kerr was initially called offside, but a VAR review confirmed Kerr never touched the ball and because she didn't interfere with the defenders or their ability to play the ball, or receive an advantage by initially being offside, the goal was good.
It was the correct call. But it lit up the couchside commentary. What did Kerr see on the play? "Goal," she said. "It came off the defender, there's no question about it."
Brazil's defense doesn't get enough attention.
It's understandable that Brazil's defense is underrated considering that Marta, who scored a record 16th World Cup goal and became the only player to score in five Women's World Cups, and Cristiane, who logged a hat trick against Jamaica, are on the field. But for most of the first half, Brazil's defense was stifling. They made 30 clearances and stopped Australia's early offensive onslaught. Brazil's atypical 4-1-4-1 scheme all but took Kerr out of the game for much of the first half, instead forcing the Matildas to build their scoring attack from the wings, where Kerr shifted late in the first half.
Despite Australia dominating possession in the first half, it was Brazil that headed to the locker room up 2-1.
The Aussies wanted an up-tempo match.
The Matildas got what they asked for. Thursday night's sprint-a-thon looked nothing like the stop-and-start contest they played against Italy on Sunday night. Australia set the pace at the start and dominated possession, but by game's end, the Matildas had only a slight advantage on the stat. Their biggest challenge now will be recovering from this match and having the legs to face Jamaica on Tuesday. That game will not be a gimme.