• Matt Olsen

Young Matildas outclassed despite strong individual performances

Australia's 2022 FIFA U-20 Women's World Cup campaign is over. But the girls who did their country proud in Costa Rica may undoubtedly hold their heads high.


An opening night win against the hosts was somewhat of a fairytale for the Young Matildas. But the realities of a rising European giant and a systemically bred for success Brazilian squad sunk in too deep, and the team are flying home after just three games.

The Young Matildas arrived at Estadio Nacional with a point to prove. (Football Australia)


When breaking it all down, you must ask how much of a success or failure the campaign was, especially with the allure of a home World Cup for young women and girls on the way.W


So we start with matchday 1; a crowd of close to 23,000 people packed into the Estadio Nacional de San Jose to see Las Ticas. Within 18 minutes, they scored the goal of the tournament. They brought plenty of smiles to the people fighting for the female game in Central America.


Alexandra Pinell embodied the 2008 efforts of Cristiano Ronaldo by slotting a free kick into the top corner with all the power and precision of a battled professional. If you haven't seen this goal, do yourself a favour and search for it.


All nods to an incredible goal aside, it was after this point that the Australian girls kicked into gear. Within 20 minutes after that, they took the lead.


Quite fortunately so, but certainly not to be faulted. In the 37th minute, Sarah Hunter was awarded a penalty after a handball in the box. In the 38th, Costa Rica's goalkeeper handed Bryleeh Henry a goal through an error.


The game was put to bed by the 72nd with a headed goal from Newcastle Jet Kirsty Fenton.


This triumph was one to be proud of for many reasons, including Daniela Galic winning player of the match for a workhorse-like performance in midfield. But, on a far more critical note, the girls learnt a valuable lesson.


A roaring crowd going nuts after another world-class goal from a hometown hero left that atmosphere extremely intimidating. It was nothing this group of girls would have faced in their early footballing careers. But, undeterred, they overcame the adversities of it all and won on the night.

It's an effort the Matildas could follow on from with the weight of their country behind them at a home World Cup, which was valuable.

Adversities overcome and a winning start for the Young Matildas. (Football Australia)


Elsewhere, besides Galic, positives came from Sally James in goal, Western Australian Hana Lowry in a deep-lying playmaking role, and winger Abbey Lemon. She stood up in the following days when things got tough.


It would be fitting to start with Lemon. She provided many chances and was not afraid to get involved, particularly when the girls faced Brazil and Spain in the tropical paradise that is the city of Alajuela.


The counterattack was paramount to an Australian side that needed to absorb and find a way forward against two aggressive and skilful sides.


This scenario is where Lemon excelled, having created the bulk of the chances and dominated the right-hand side of the pitch, notably against Spain, when Australia needed everything to progress.


Unfortunately, Costa Rica has been hit with tropical storms throughout the tournament, and treacherous weather conditions plagued the Young Matildas on their journey to progress.


Against Brazil, we saw a nearly half-hour long break that Australia struggled to recover from, losing momentum when it was still tight at 0-1 and conceding almost immediately.

Estadio Morera Soto in Alajuela was hit with severe storms, a common theme across the tournament. (Football Australia)


While the weather wasn't great against Spain, the game went on peacefully, and it was a Lemon-Galic combination that could have seen the girls take a 1-0 lead early on. Just 60 seconds later, Spain did take the lead, and from there, their class shone through the Alajuela rain. They never looked back, creating an unconquerable task for Australia. Spain had won the group on goal difference, and Australia was on the first flight home.


For fans to look at Australia's performances over the past week and a half with anger or misery would not be fair on a group of battle-hardened youngsters who came with one mission in mind. They were not aiming to be world champions but instead looking to develop and learn, something these tournaments boil down to when all is said and done.


With this objective in mind, you can bet that the girls achieved their goals. First, an atmosphere like no other was devoured and overcome. Then adversities were faced against quality opposition, and a never say die attitude was adhered to when all looked lost.


These qualities make Australia winners, and with the female game continuing to rise overseas, you can only observe so much from a nation where the female game is always given a chance.


These girls have done their country proud, and fans should thank them for going into the Lion's Den and emerging as true professionals with a bright career ahead.


Front Page Football is the home of a range of Australian women's football content. Click here to read a previous article on Adelaide City Women Head Coach Angelo Paul, or click here to read a book review on Texi Smith's book, 'Anna Black: This girl can play'.