Long ago (1988) I moved to Berkeley and started sending a monthly "newsletter" to my Boston friends. When I returned to Boston (1993), I continued the tradition for about five more years (or until I had kids). Looking back, I realize that I was actually blogging. Each newsletter contained anywhere from a few to several blog posts. Having been silent for the past decade or so, I've decided to resume these activities. Don't expect anything profound -- I tend to focus on what I find entertaining or amusing and perhaps sometimes informative. We shall see!

Sunday, August 20, 2023

WWC23: Australia versus Sweden (consolation)

Once again, it was pure party in Brisbane! From numberes of fans and their behavior, you would not have known that this was the consolation (3rd place) match rather than the final. The streets were ablaze in yellow and green (and pale blue -- the Mathildas away jersey color, which it turns out, the were wearing for the match). We joined the merriment on Caxton street and had a linner (dunch) there before the 6:00 game. (Well, before our 4:30 arrive to buy our last gifts of WWC apparel to bring home and to soak in the stadium atmorephere.) The picture below is the stadium about an hour before the kickoff.

Maddie and I did a loop of the stadium (found some more FIFA apparel we had not found in the outside store), found the press booth, and soaked in the ambiance.

Then we found our way to our seats -- almost identical to the seats I had for the Quarterfinal against France (2 rows back, so 14 from the field, at the 24 yard box of Sweden).

The seats were just great, so we got a birds eye view of warmups and some of the TV coverage happened right beside us.

And here is the stadium about 15 minutes before the kickoff.

And then it was time for the match!

The match opened in about as terrifying a manner as imaginable: Sweden has the kick off and within the first minute of play Blackstenius is in the Australian box from which she launches a great shot that thankfully, Mackenzie Arnold gets a hand on. Um, it would be best of Australian were a bit more alert!

Unfortunately, the first 15 minutes are reiminescent of the semi-final. Australia can't quite seem to get in the swing of things; their passes are a bit off, the fluidity they show when they are at their best is missing, and Sweden is taking full advantage of this -- in minute four, Blackstenius sends in a cross that Arnold has to catch. It's feeling like it could be a long day.

And once again, Australia does settle down and starts to put together its own threats. But, the overall feel of the game is a lot like the semi: Sweden has possession, but when Australia gets the ball, they make you believe that something good is going to happen. Sadly, it doesn't. I feel it's important to remember that Australia is coming off only a 2-day rest, while Sweden is coming off a 3-day rest. To my eye, the Mathildas just looks (understandably) tired.

By the middle of the first half, we're starting to see a real end to end game with both sides attacking regularly. In the 27th minute, it looks like Australia is saved again -- this time Blackstenius finds Asllani, who chips the ball in to Rolfo who heads the ball into the crossbar. Australia breathes a short-lived sigh of relief until we learn that there is a VAR penalty review. And then, devastation! Sweden is awarded a penalty due to a foul on Blackstenius. Arnold goes the right way and almost gets a hand on it, biut alas it's Sweden 1-0!

It's now a bit more of a frantic game. Autralia is pushing for the equalizer and Sweden is looking for a second goal to give them a bit of breathing space. This continues up to halftime, where a frustrated and saddened stadium sees the teams head to the locker room with that unhappy 1-0 score.

The second half saw a lot more of the same. The longer the game went on, the more frantically Australia started relying on the "let's just launch the ball up to Kerr and hope that she can do something magical again" strategy. I think this was a huge tactical error. In the games Australia won, they won without Kerr. Instead they had a beautiful midfield game that involved lots of players in lots of plays. They lost site of this with Kerr's return, and it meant that they turned into a bit of a one-trick-pony team. It was exciting, and Kerr certainly makes you believe that every opportunity might, in fact, lead to a goal. But, it's much easier to defend against, and it meant that Kerr got beaten up pretty regularly.

Then, in the 61st minute, it's more bad news for the home team. It's that pesky Blackstenius again -- coming down the left side, she finds Asllani making a run into the box, and Asllani sends a rocket into the right corner of the net. Sweden 2-0!

The rest is, quite honestly, just ugly. Sweden continues to push forward and look really dangerous. The Mathildas continue to hope that Kerr is going to work magic. In the 77th minute, Kerr goes down with something clearly bothering her newly recovered (or maybe not so recovered calves). It's almost painful to watch. Australia has given everything, but it's just not quite enough, and the crowd just waits for the six minutes of extra time to end.

But unlike some fans (Boston, that's you), Aussies love their team win or lose. The fans are thankful for all the Mathildas have done for team and country. I am thrilled the next day when I see the majority of customers in Rebel (my source for all WWC soccer jerseys) still buying Mathildas jerseys. There are signs everywhere still praising the Mathildas and cheering them on. And even Monday, after the final, the airport sports signs cheering, "Go Mathildas." There is sadness, but it's still a loverest and a lot of gratitude for the month of joy that the Mathildas and the rest of the WWC teams brough.

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