Thursday 07 March 2019, 07:06

Retuned Aussies top four-cornered contest

  • Australia won maiden Cup of Nations

  • Korea Republic’s Ji Soyun named best player

  • New Zealand, Argentina also gear up for France 2019

The history books will show Australia successfully hosted and won the maiden edition of the Cup of Nations in emphatic fashion.

In truth the contest was more challenging than it seemed on paper, with all three invited nations – Argentina, Korea Republic and New Zealand – providing varying challenges. Above all though, all four teams enjoyed invaluable competition-style preparation for the fast-looming FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019™.

Australia went into the tournament in a state of uncertainty with Ante Milicic assuming the reins just ten days before the tournament, following the unexpected exit of Alen Stajcic. It was a similar story for New Zealand who are rebuilding following the arrival of veteran coach Tom Sermanni.

The opposite is true for Korea Republic who have been steady under coach Yoon Deokyeo for six years now. Argentina, for their part, developed over the course of the tournament as they enjoy what has been relatively limited international exposure ahead of a return to the Women’s World Cup following a 12-year absence.

The tournament in numbers

Korea Republic’s Ji Soyun constantly displayed her quality to be named player of the tournament. The playmaker netted four times to be the first South Korean to reach 50 international goals.

Hayley Raso scored three minutes into her international return following a seven-month absence with a career-threatening broken back. Remarkably, the goal was set-up by Amy Harrison in her first international for 15 months following injury.

Returning to the international arena was a recurring theme, with New Zealand boosted by 100-cap veterans Abby Erceg and Katie Duncan. But no one had endured a longer break than forward Emma Kete who made a welcome return following a seven-year absence.

Leaving aside defensive concerns, Argentina boast two highly dangerous attacking outlets in Estefania Banini and Soledad Jaimes. The former is well-known for her NWSL exploits, but the latter is set to shine at France 2019 with the powerful No9 recently linking with French super club Lyon.

First – Australia

Pressure was on the hosts to maintain their momentum of recent years following the appointment of Milicic. Outwardly at least the Matildas barely missed a beat, with their trademark attacking style in full flow, yielding nine goals.

Star forward Sam Kerr was surprisingly named captain before the tournament, and the prolific forward continued to deliver on the field with three goals. The squad’s depth was proven despite several injury absentees, and it will be a tough contest to select the final squad for France 2019.

Second – Korea Republic

Results for Korea Republic were a mixed bag. They opened with a massive 5-0 win over Argentina, and ended the campaign with a 2-0 victory against New Zealand. Dominance late in the match was theme across both contests, yet the opposite was true in a 4-1 loss against Australia.

Ji Soyun again displayed her world class quality, but as was the case at last year’s AFC Women’s Asian Cup, Korea Republic’s strength is their teamwork and tactical organisation. The Taeguk Ladies showed more than enough quality to suggest they can hold their own in a tough France 2019 group, which includes a high-profile opener against the hosts.

Third – New Zealand

The Cup of Nations was very much a stepping stone for a New Zealand side, who have only played OFC qualifiers since Sermanni assumed the reins. There were 2-0 defeats against Australia and Korea Republic, but the Kiwis held their own for long periods and were unlucky not to get on the scoresheet in each match.

The tournament was highlighted by the return of numerous experienced personnel from international exile – self-imposed or otherwise. Like the other teams at the tournament, New Zealand gave significant match time to some of the younger players ahead of an impressive pre-Women’s World Cup schedule which includes matches against Norway, USA and England.

Fourth – Argentina

Argentina may have finished rooted to the bottom of the standings without a goal, but growth over the course of the week is evidence of a team on the up. The Albicelestes are playing catch-up ahead of France having played just four times since last April’s Copa America.

A 5-0 defeat against Korea Republic proved a rude awakening, though the first half was an even contest. A 2-0 loss to New Zealand followed, and though Australia won 3-0, the home side were boosted by goals at either end of the 90 minutes.