The Young Matildas got off to the perfect start in Costa Rica, beating the host nation 3-1 in their opening match of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup.
While the scoreline suggests a relatively comfortable Australian victory, Leah Blayney and her team had to work exceptionally hard against this Costa Rican side.
Australia started the brighter of the two with captain Sheridan Gallagher applying pressure on the goalkeeper, forcing a turnover and eventually receiving the ball.
His bold, long-range effort required two attempts from Genesis Perez to be claimed.
Both teams favored their right side in attack as they looked to settle into the game. While neither team created too many chances, Costa Rica opened the scoring in spectacular fashion.
In the 19th minute, Costa Rican captain Alexandra Pinell fired a free-kick flare from 35 yards out. It was one of the tournament contender’s first goals and Sally James in the Australia goal couldn’t do anything as the ball went over her head.
The overwhelmingly pro-Costa Rica crowd of 22,506 was thrilled and The Sele had a dream start at home.
The Young Matildas didn’t lower their heads and kept pushing the Costa Rican defense in search of an equaliser.
Hana Lowry was on the set piece, with her corners, as well as the mass of bodies in the box, creating some chaos for the Costa Rica defense.
Just after the half hour mark, Australia entered a period of sustained possession. That pressure was eventually released in the form of a penalty for the Young Matildas.
Gallagher’s cross from the left side was hand-balled by a Costa Rican defender and Sarah Hunter walked over to head home quietly.
The Young Matildas then did the double in two minutes with Bryleeh Henry notching his first of the tournament.
Sheridan Gallagher’s cross from the right side was too hot for Perez to handle. Two Australian players were ready and waiting to pounce on the parade, but it was Henry’s toe that made the final contact.
The second half saw things start to open up as the players were fatigued and the Young Matildas fought their way into the competition even further.
Blayney’s proteges started to work the ball a little better and found joy crossing the lines.
Perez continued to look a bit shaky and Australia kept trying to exploit that instability.
Hunter attempted to double his goal tally with a long-range shot. After controlling a Costa Rican clearance attempt with her chest, she took a stab on the half volley, to no avail.
Sheridan Gallagher was also close to adding another Australian goal but was well organized as she ran towards a reduction at the far post.
The Young Matildas finally found their third on a free kick. Lowry’s corner was sent perfectly into the hot spot and Kirsty Fenton was able to drive home from close range, although she was unaware of the finish with the ball coming out the back of her head.
Second-half substitute Charlize Rule had a good chance to make it four, but her shot was calmly claimed by Perez in the Costa Rican goal.
The Young Matildas finished the game looking the more attacking of the two teams and are now top of Group A after Brazil and Spain split the spoils in a scoreless draw.
After 5,832 days since Australia’s last game at a FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup, Leah Blayney and her team have made a happy comeback.
The Young Matildas next face Brazil, the current winners of the South American U20 Women’s Football Championship, on Sunday morning Australian time. Kick off is at 6am AEST.
Brazil vs Australia
Date: Saturday August 13, 2022 (local)/ Sunday August 14, 2022
Venue: Morera Soto, Alajuela
To start up: 2:00 p.m. CST (local time)/ 6:00 a.m. AEST
Broadcast: SBS Australia