Sam Kerr will be crucial to Australia's chances tonight.
Sam Kerr will be crucial to Australia's chances tonight.

Matildas stunned by injury time Italy winner

SAM Kerr opened her Women's World Cup account but not even Australia's fiercely cherished superstar could save the Matildas from an opening defeat.

Italy were twice disallowed goals either side of the break in an end-to-end, drama-filled Group C encounter but Barbara Bonansea struck in the 95th minute to seal her brace and a 2-1 win that leaves coach Ante Milicic with plenty to ponder ahead of more challenging prospects further down the line in France.

Fancied as dark horses to bring home the trophy, the Matildas revealed flashes of the attacking class that propelled 

Italy's midfielder Barbara Bonansea (R) celebrates after scoring a goal. Picture: AFP
Italy's midfielder Barbara Bonansea (R) celebrates after scoring a goal. Picture: AFP

The 15th-ranked Azzurre, conversely, meant business from the off and played up to their more-fancied counterparts, creating good chances that bore fruit at the death and revelling in late-game gamesmanship.

And though Lisa De Vanna added sorely needed lightning off the bench, the pressure will be on against remaining group foes Brazil and Jamaica.

VAR-Y LUCKY

Australia can thank a few millimetres of Bonansea's forearm for the fact they didn't go down an early goal. Emily van Egmond turned over the ball and allowed Manuela Giugliano to unleash a superb, defence-splitting ball. Bonansea, Italy's most dangerous player, slipped off the shoulder, shrugged off a challenge and finished past a clearly frustrated Lydia Williams.

But the lineswomen's flag was up and the goal disallowed. A lengthy review by the video assistant referee showed the call was microscopic, but Honduran referee Melissa Borjas upheld her decision. Then, nine minutes from time, Daniela Sabatino rattled the near post before putting the rebound in the back corner but was similarly ruled offside.

KERR OPENS ACCOUNT …

… and then channels Tim Cahill. Kerr has four consecutive club golden boots across two continents but had yet to score at a World Cup at her previous two tournaments. She wasted no time here. As Ellie Carpenter whipped in a cross, Italy's pugnacious skipper Sara Gama gave Kerr a shove in the box and the striker expertly drew the foul for a yellow card and penalty. Kerr's subsequent spot-kick was denied by Italy's goalkeeper Laura Giuliani but she made no mistake on the follow-up, then raced to the corner flag and gave it a good punch.

DEFENCE STILL A PROBLEM

Italy's reversed goal occurred because Australia were caught out of shape, and every time Italy had space their green-and-gold opponents appeared vulnerable and often forced to scramble. It took some fine goalkeeping from Williams to keep the Matildas in the game, the Seattle Reign and Melbourne City custodian denying Cristiana Girelli's close-range shot and copping a ball to the face for her troubles.

But Italy's equaliser marked the biggest warning sign as to how easily Ante Milicic's play-out-from-the back philosophy can be exposed. Alanna Kennedy took a short ball from Williams and passed to Clare Polkinhorne who, under no pressure, took a heavy touch and gifted possession to Bonansea.

Italy's Barbara Bonansea (2ndR) celebrates after scoring a goal that was later disallowed. Picture: AFP
Italy's Barbara Bonansea (2ndR) celebrates after scoring a goal that was later disallowed. Picture: AFP

The Juventus star slalomed past both her and Kennedy and slid the ball into the bottom corner. Kennedy came uncomfortably close to scoring an own goal 10 minutes from time.

FLASHES OF ATTACKING POTENTIAL

Disjointed for the opening 20 minutes, the Matildas sparked to life after Kerr's goal and could have doubled the lead before halftime. Hayley Raso only marginally failed to connect with a van Egmond pile-driver and Chloe Logarzo almost made good on an excellent Australian counter-attack when Caitlin Foord offloaded to Carpenter and Raso cracked in a cross.

Australia's Sam Kerr showed flashes of brilliance. Picture: AFP
Australia's Sam Kerr showed flashes of brilliance. Picture: AFP

Time and again there was a tangible sense that a second goal would open the floodgates, but Italy kept pressing and went hard for a winner with fast-paced accuracy. Cue Bonansea's late, late heroics.

CARPENTER KILLING IT

She's still only 19, but the first-choice right-back is coming of age. The Matildas overloaded the right flank and Carpenter had a field day against Italy's left-back Alia Guagni, exploding forward with Raso adding her mark higher up on the wing. Carpenter endured a rough time against the Netherlands last weekend but she well and truly fits in on the world's biggest stage.



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