Matildas make a mean point in opener
Given their easy walk through Oceania qualifying, many harboured doubts about Australia's ability to make the leap in quality at the inaugural FIFA U-19 Women's World Championship. But, with one convincing win behind them, the Aussies have made their own little mark on Australian soccer's somewhat chequered history and sent their doubters fumbling for a slice of humble vegemite pie.
A healthy 1-5 win over Asian representatives Chinese Taipei at Victoria's Centennial Stadium in their 17 August opener served notice that the Young Matildas were going to be pushovers for no one. With a line of speedy strikers and an all-purpose playmaker in blonde-haired Amber Neilson, they quite simply out muscled, overpowered and ran ragged their seemingly outmatched opponents.
Heading into the tournament, a lack of international competition seemed to be head coach Mike Mulvey's primary concern.
"I think the major problem that will be facing us will be our lack of international experience," commented the Aussie boss. "To be perfectly honest, our first major international match of any consequence was just days ago against Japan … with our lack of international experience, we may be at a bit of a disadvantage."
But after losing that recent friendly in Vancouver to top-spot Asian qualifiers Japan, the 1-5 thrashing of Chinese Taipei - qualifying conquerors of the respected Republic of Korea - seemed to silence some doubts and set initial, internal nerves at ease.
Even before laying claim to their first goal in the 29th minute, the young Matilda's created a number of out-and-out chances with their direct style and bustling speed up front and down the flanks.
Striker Selin Kuralay was sent clean through in only the second minute, and could have scored twice before Hayley Crawford finally chipped a delightful goal from a tough angle. Amber Neilson doubled the lead before the interval with a well-taken and deserved penalty to take the life out of the Taiwanese.
A brave Chinese Taipei fight back was simply not on the cards - though they did manage to grab a goal for consolation's sake - as the colourful Aussies, driven on by a vocal bevy of shouting supporters in the stands, overran their Asian counterparts with an avalanche of three goals in the final 12 minutes of play.
Despite the score line, coach Mike Mulvey still had things on his mind at the final whistle. "I was absolutely thrilled with the result, but disappointed with the goal we conceded. I think it was an ugly, clumsy mistake. We got careless, and I think we have to avoid these kinds of mistakes and lapses."
Well one thing is certain, Aussie lapses and mistakes will surely be punished in the Young Matildas' next outing, as they take on Tracey Leone's heavily-fancied (and for good reason) Americans in a Group C face-off with 'thriller' written all over it. The US made easy meat of tough-tackling, honest England in their first match, also by a 5-1 margin, setting up a real barn burner at Victoria's Centennial Stadium on 19 August.
Of the upcoming clash with the mighty US, Mulvey was respectful, but rang a warning as well. "We'll show our opponents the utmost respect and they'd be well served to do the same for us."