Matildas captain Sam Kerr celebrates scoring her fourth goal against Jamaica. Picture: Getty Images
Matildas captain Sam Kerr celebrates scoring her fourth goal against Jamaica. Picture: Getty Images

Matildas already behind the eight-ball

THEY haven't even arrived in Nice and it's already advantage Norway, who get 24 hours more rest than the battle-weary Matildas.

And coach Ante Milicic knows a full 90-minute performance is yet to come, warning defensive frailties must be dealt with if they're to make a fourth-straight quarter-final World Cup run.

The knockout stages await after Sam Kerr's four-star showing against Jamaica ensured a second-place finish in Group C.

But while an arduous passage past Italy, Brazil and the Reggae Girlz has hardened Australia, it's also left them fatigued.

And Norway, who finished second to France in Group A, enter Sunday morning's sudden-death encounter with an extra day's recovery in their legs, having overcome South Korea the night before Australia's final group game.

"It's going to mean a lot," Milicic said.

"And to be honest I looked at our players tonight and a few of them I thought looked a little bit fatigued at times.

"It was obviously a lot hotter than what we're used to and I noticed a lot of girls mentioned before the game the field was quite hard.

"So an extra day means a lot, but this team won't look at that as a negative or make excuses.

"We'll recover well physically and mentally, and one thing you know about this team is they'll be well prepared and ready to go at Norway on Saturday night."

That might mean more rotation as Milicic manages the loads of key players in preparation for the second of up to three games in 10 days.

Against Jamaica he made three changes to the starting XI, deploying Katrina Gorry, Lisa De Vanna and starting debutant Karly Roestbakken in place of rested Elise Kellond-Knight, Tameka Yallop (cork) and Caitlin Foord.

The trio are expected to return for the crunch clash, with Clare Polkinghorne (hamstring) also on the way back.

But anyone short of 100 per cent won't be risked and Milicic felt Jamaica "took quite a lot out of a couple of them".

"It's definitely a concern," he said.

"Trying to pick the squad, that was my criteria with fitness and form, as much as possible people who could play, train but also back up.

Matildas defender Alanna Kennedy celebrates with Australian fans after the win over Jamaica on Wednesday morning. Picture: Getty Images
Matildas defender Alanna Kennedy celebrates with Australian fans after the win over Jamaica on Wednesday morning. Picture: Getty Images

"This is the one now with three-day turnaround, and I know the opposition having one extra day means a lot - and you could be preparing for 120 minutes and penalties.

"We've had an opportunity to freshen up a couple tonight, but we really have to have a look at it in the next couple of days and see where the girls are at.

"But you know even though the girls might be a little fatigued, the spirit in this squad is very strong."

That only counts for so much against a world No.12 side and marked improvement is needed, particularly in defence, if the Matildas have a hope of making the last eight in Le Havre against either England or Japan.

"We were a bit predictable going wide and when those crosses weren't beating the first defender we weren't there to pick up the second ball," Milicic said.

"In the second half they made a change and we couldn't deal with them in transition, with the speed they had, and the strength and power."

Norwegian star Ada Hegerberg has chosen not to play for her country. Picture: AP
Norwegian star Ada Hegerberg has chosen not to play for her country. Picture: AP

Even without superstar, Norway are still a force.

Ballon d'Or winner Ada Hegerberg's self-enforced World Cup absence means her country is not often appreciated for its own sake.

But there's a proficiency and prowess about the world No.12 that make them menacing even without the best female player in the world.

Hegerberg, last year awarded the inaugural women's Ballon d'Or, hasn't played for her country since 2017 in protest at the Norwegian Football Federation's treatment of its female footballers and hindering her ability to play for Lyon.

Curiously, the 23-year-old's country has produced better results without her, beating the Netherlands in last September's decisive World Cup qualifier and doing over Denmark, China and Poland to win the 2019 Algarve Cup.

Whether that's down to a team forced not to build around one player, or the country has simply made inroads regardless.

Barcelona's Caroline Graham Hansen is a world-class dribbler, Guro Reiten can score from distance and striker Isabell Herlovsen has taken on Hegerberg's goal-scoring responsibility with aplomb.

News Corp Australia


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