Credit: Football Australia

Emily van Egmond’s first international hat-trick helped the Matildas take another giant step towards qualifying for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics as they defeated Thailand 6-0 at Campbelltown Stadium in Sydney’s southwest on Monday night.

Van Egmond’s third goal was one of four in the space of seven minutes midway through the second half, with Kyah Simon scoring a brace and Hayley Raso adding a goal of her own to help the Matildas leapfrog China PR into first place in Group B ahead of their must-win match against the Steel Roses on Thursday. 

Fresh from the side’s commanding 7-0 win over Chinese Taipei, manager Ante Miličić rang the changes: Mackenzie Arnold, Ellie Carpenter, Alanna Kennedy, Aivi Luik, Katrina Gorry, and Emily Gielnik came into the starting XI at the expense of Lydia Williams, Clare Polkinghorne, Steph Catley, Elise Kellond-Knight, Chloe Logarzo and Hayley Raso. Campbelltown-born Kennedy was also handed the armband for the match, becoming the first Macarthur local to captain the national side at her home venue.

Thailand too rolled the dice, opting for a more defensive 4-4-1-1 from the outset in contrast to the 4-2-3-1 employed against China PR, and while manager Naruephon Kaenson maintained an unchanged back six, Thailand’s entire attacking set-up was replaced, with 20-year-old Kanyanat Chetthabut leading the line in place of Saowalak Pengngam.

From the outset, it was apparent that Thailand’s two main lines would be primarily used to stifle Australia’s forward progress through the centre of the pitch, with defence and midfield maintaining an almost-uniform distance between the lines throughout the first 20 minutes of the match. No fewer than five metres and rarely greater than 10 separated the Thais’ two banks of four, much to the chagrin of the metronomic but frustrated Australian side.

Even though Australia managed to hold upwards of 70% of possession throughout the first half-hour, gilt-edged chances were few and far between for the side’s attacking quintet. Australia relied mainly on tireless work down the flanks from wingback Carpenter and winger Gielnik, both of whom consistently beat their markers for speed to whip in decent crosses, only for their recipients to spurn the chance to convert on each occasion.

Kaenson’s plan of relying on Chetthabut to lead the line was ultimately unfruitful, as the young striker registered only four touches and failed to complete a pass in the first 36 minutes of play, at which point she was withdrawn in favour of World Cup goalscorer Kanjana Sungngoen. While Sungngoen wasn’t hugely influential immediately, her inclusion was a sign Kaenson was looking for her pace and industry to help stretch the pitch on the counter, forcing Australia to retreat and cover, and eventually build up from further within their own half.

Soon after Sungngoen made her bow however, Kaenson’s best laid plans started unravelling as van Egmond opened the scoring for Australia with a perfectly-timed volley at the back post, converting Carpenter’s cross from the right flank. With three Thai defenders drawn centrally to the aerial threat of Foord and Gielnik, van Egmond ghosted in behind to net her first Matildas goal since November 2018.

Van Egmond wouldn’t have to wait nearly as long for her next international goal though, capping off the half with her second for the evening, again converting after good work from Carpenter on the right. Having made a strong attacking run towards the box and laid the ball off into space, van Egmond waited among the six Thai defenders swarming the box and coolly slotted Carpenter’s low cross from beside the penalty spot.

Thailand did well to maintain that two-goal margin until the hour mark, a fact with which Miličić must have been uncomfortable, withdrawing midfielder Gorry and winger Gielnik in favour of Sam Kerr and Hayley Raso. With Foord causing havoc at the point of attack, Miličić moved Simon from her original role on the wing into a more traditional #10 midfield role, assisting van Egmond as a second attacking pivot and allowing Raso to operate on her favoured right flank, while Kerr directly replaced Gielnik on the left.

Kerr’s introduction brought almost-immediate result for Australia, her presence serving as a major distraction for Thailand’s right side in the moments leading to Simon’s first goal of the evening, and Australia’s third. Drawing two defenders close to her on the left side, Kerr laid off a well-weighted reverse pass to left fullback Karly Roestbakken, whose out-swinging cross was squeezed in off Simon’s thigh for her first Matildas goal since the 2018 AFC Women’s Asian Cup, and Roestbakken’s first assist at international level. 

Simon and Kerr were instrumental to Australia’s fourth goal, with Simon firing a cross to Kerr at the back post, the Chelsea striker’s deft touch back infield finding van Egmond on the six-yard box to slide in and secure her first hat-trick in the green-and-gold on 70 minutes.

Kerr turned provider once again barely 60 seconds later. The move started when she capitalised on a well-placed throw-in from Roestbakken and bodied defender Natthakarn Chinwong off the ball to win space in behind the Thai defence, Kerr then rifling a low pass back across goal for the wide-open Raso to smash past goalkeeper Tiffany Sornpao to make it 5-0 with 20 minutes to play.

Simon completed the rout with her second goal of the evening, winning a towering back-post header between defenders Chinwong and Phonphirun Philawan to nod in van Egmond’s free kick.

The Matildas could have added three more to the scoreline in the closing stages, if not for Foord’s affinity for hitting the woodwork with rasping strikes, and a spectacular save by Sornpao to claw Kerr’s looping header from up where the spiders live.

As positive as the match was from an attacking perspective, manager Miličić also praised his side’s work in defence both with and without the ball, preventing a shot on target from Thailand all game.

“We obviously dominated possession but the amount of clear-cut chances we created tonight was very pleasing,” Miličić told Fox Sports after the match.

“The main take-away for us I thought the way we defended, particularly in transition. I think all game they only had two penalty area entries, and to keep a clean sheet and really work on our defensive structures when we have the ball because that’s been an area that’s probably let us down in the past and I thought tonight the way we organised ourselves was very good, so [I’m] quite pleased.”

Miličić also praised the side’s versatility in the attacking third, as his side created 21 clear-cut goalscoring opportunities – a third of them through van Egmond – and finished the match with 38 shots in total, but said that any equation for topping the group never came into his game plan before the match.

“If we want to be a serious team, we don’t start talking about goal difference, topping the [group] – we just play every game to win,” he said.

“That’s simple: three games, we go to attack all three teams, we’re at home, we want to take the game to the opposition and win three games, so nothing changes for us. That’s all it is is two wins, and we look forward to Thursday night playing at home at a fantastic stadium in front of our fans.”

 


Thailand 0
Australia 6 (van Egmond 44’ 45’+4 70’ Simon 67’ 73’ Raso 71’)

Thailand: Tiffany Sornpao; Khwanruedi Saengchan, Sunisa Srangthaisong (c), Natthakam Chinwong, Phornphirun Philawan; Silawan Intamee, Pikul Khueanpet, Nutwadee Pram-nak (Orapin Waenngoen 82’), Warunee Phetwiset (Ainon Phancha 68’; yellow card 82’); Taneekarn Dangda, Kanyanat Chetthabut (Kanjana Sungngoen 36’).

Australia: Mackenzie Arnold; Karly Roestbakken, Alanna Kennedy (c), Jenna McCormick, Ellie Carpenter; Emily van Egmond, Aivi Luik, Katrina Gorry (Samantha Kerr 61’); Emily Gielnik (Hayley Raso 61’), Caitlin Foord, Kyah Simon (Tameka Yallop 74’).