Matildas open Cup of Nations campaign in style

The Matildas responded to an “amazing” speech from Sam Kerr to awake from a first-half slumber and thrash Czechia 4-0 in Gosford on Thursday night.

The Europeans were the better of the teams in the opening 45 minutes, with the Matildas starting their Cup of Nations campaign on a sleepy and at times disorganised manner on the Central Coast.

However, following a stirring half-time address from star Chelsea striker Kerr, the Matildas showed greater intent and energy in the second half, and were rewarded with four goals in a positive sign ahead of this year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Two goals came from Manchester City winger Hayley Raso, while Kerr and record-breaking defender Clare Polkinghorne also got on the scoresheet.

Polkinghorne’s 84th-minute goal was a fitting way to end the game, with the veteran defender captaining the side on the night she grabbed sole possession of the record for most Matildas appearances with 152.

The 34-year-old Queenslander was also rock solid in defence against a Czechia side that troubled the Matildas in the first-half before being outclassed by the hosts for the remainder of the contest,

Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson was pleased with his side’s second-half response, and paid credit to Kerr for lifting her teammates.

“Her half-time talk was amazing,” Gustavsson told Network 10.

“Her leadership is phenomenal. She’s been around in important games and can replicate what it can be like.

“Be patient, believe, be positive, energised but we need to play faster, we need to better … it’s that balance of support and demand. It’s great leadership.”

Earlier, Kerr had claims for a penalty waved away in the 18th minute when she was outmuscled by veteran Czechia defender Petra Bertholdová.

The Matildas then wasted a potential chance seven minutes later with a poorly placed pass from Raso.

Czechia then took control, and had three chances in the space of six minutes.

On each occasion, Matildas goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold was forced into saves.

The West Ham custodian tipped a long-distance effort from defender Anna Dlaskova around the post in the 26th minute.

Arnold was then grateful for a poor finish from Jitka Chlastákova in the 29th minute.

Chlastákova, who plays for the Western Sydney Wanderers in the A-League women’s competition, should have scored but directed her weak shot straight into the grateful arms of Arnold.

Sloppy play from the Matildas then led to a chance for Michaela Khyrova in the 32nd minute, but Arnold again came to Australia’s rescue with smart save at her near post.

That proved to be the end of Czechia’s highlights, with Raso giving the Matildas the lead three minutes after half-time via a shot that deflected off Dlaskova and hit the inside of the post before rolling into the back of the net.

Raso doubled Australia’s lead in the 56th minute with a close-range header.

Kerr’s 62nd goal made it 3-0 in the 71st minute, with Polkinghorne providing the icing on the cake 13 minutes later.

In Thursday’s early Cup of Nations match, Spain beat Jamaica 3-0.

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