Matildas stave off Korean onslaught for a win

by Jeremy Ruane:
with the compliments of

Women’s International Friendly – Tri-Match Series 2015
Tuesday 10 February, 2015 – Bill McKinlay Park, Auckland, New Zealand

Australia 2 (Clare Polkinghorne 11′, Michelle Heyman 37′)
Korea Democratic Peoples Republic (Korea DPR) 1 (Kim YM 14′)


Australia marked their return to the world stage at Bill McKinlay Park on 10 February by producing a tremendous rearguard action to edge out Korea DPR 2-1 in the second match of the international tri-series, although how the Asian Games winners failed to add The Matildas’ scalp to their collection in this match, only they will know.

From the outset, the North Koreans tore into their Australian counterparts with gusto, Kim Un Ju seeing her shot blocked to safety just eighty seconds into the contest. From the resulting short corner, Yun Song Mi’s cross to Kim Yun Mi was guided down for Wi Jong Sim to unleash a delicate twenty yard chip which cleared Brianna Davey’s crossbar by inches.

In the third minute, Yun picked out Kim Yun Mi with a free-kick which the gangly striker headed down to Ra Un Sim. Davey raced off her line to block at the striker’s feet, but the ball spilled loose to Jon Myong Hwa, whose shot on the turn was blocked on the line by Matildas captain Claire Polkinghorne.

After Asian Women’s Player of the Year Katrina Gorry had stung the gloves of Hong Myong Hui with a twenty-five yarder, the Koreans were right back on the case, Jon releasing Ri down the left in the sixth minute. She steered the ball inside for Ri Ye Gyong, whose miscued lob arced over Davey’s head but bounced wide of the goal.

The Matildas weathered the storm, and began to assert themselves a little more, Gorry’s rasping twenty-five yarder prompting a full length fingertip save from Hong, after Ashleigh Sykes and Nicola Bolger had combined to good effect on the left.

The resulting corner saw the deadlock broken. Sykes’ delivery picked out Polkinghorne, flying in through the gathered throngs, and the captain sent the ball bulleting into the back of the net – 1-0 Australia after eleven minutes.

The Koreans wasted little time in getting back on level terms – just three minutes, in fact. Kim Un Ju played the ball across to Jon, who flighted it forward for Kim Yun Mi to latch onto.

Hayley Crawford, playing her first international in a decade, rose to attempt to head clear, but the ball parted her hair and left the tall Korean striker in on goal with just Davey to beat, something she accomplished with aplomb – 1-1.

Cue another spell of impressive Korean domination, with possession almost theirs by default. Probing passes were interspersed with those which ensured ball retention as they sought a way through the Matildas’ defence, but Steph Catley and company did a terrific job keeping their rivals at bay, to such an extent that Davey wasn’t troubled by any shots – although there were a few close calls.

When the Koreans did let fly, in the 23rd minute, the ball flew wildly wide, Wi’s shot failing to do justice to the creativity of Kim Un Hyang and Kim Yun Mi in prising open Australia’s left flank.

Unperturbed, they pressed on, and in the 31st minute produced a stunning multi-angled attack which Australia somehow survived. Kim Un Ju led the charge before feeding Ra, who turned the ball on to Kim Yun Mi, lurking out wide. She clipped a cross into the near post, where Ra and Ri were racing in to meet it – quite where Davey was is another matter entirely, but she was nowhere near the ball in a very threatening area.

The Korean duo contrived to miss the ball – and thus the target – completely, instead running into each other in their eagerness to head home. Instead, the sphere continued its path across goal, finding its way to Wi beyond the far post.

She played the ball back to Jon, whose shot was blocked. Kim Un Ju couldn’t capitalise on the rebound, allowing Elise Kellond-Knight to finally clear the Matildas’ lines, much to their rivals’ disappointment.

The brief respite allowed Australia to launch a counter-attack, with Gorry – far and away the Matildas’ best on the day – pinging one through for Michelle Heyman to pursue. Hong dashed off her line to save at the striker’s feet, but when the two were next face to face, in the 37th minute, the outcome was decidedly different.

Kellond-Knight found herself out on the right, and promptly fired in a cross which had Sykes as its intended target. The striker was darting into the penalty area off the left flank on a diagonal run, and controlled the ball superbly under pressure at the near post.

After briefly shielding the ball from Kim Un Ha, Sykes laid the ball back into the stride of Heyman, and from ten yards, she unleashed an unerring drive beyond Hong to fire the Matildas in front once again, 2-1.

The Koreans were reeling from this, and were relieved to see Gorry’s dipping long-range effort clear the crossbar three minutes later, as Australia sought to increase their advantage before half-time.

There was only team in the game in the second spell, so much so that there were times when Hong was nigh on the only player in DPR’s half of the pitch. They laid siege to the Australian goal, but came up against an impressive rearguard action – the Matildas simply refused to yield.

Four minutes after the resumption, Yun fired a corner beyond the far post to Ri, whose drive through the crowd was cleared off the line by Servet Uzunlar. Four minutes later, there was no-one in a gold shirt on hand to avert the danger, as the Koreans finally found a way through.

Ra led the charge, before feeding Wi, up in support on the right. Her cross arced over all-comers to the far post, where Kim Yun Mi arrived bang on cue and soared skywards to meet the ball. But with the gaping goal at her mercy, she guided her unchallenged header over the bar – it was a glaring miss!

Another brief respite was afforded the Australians in the 55th minute, when a corner flag needed to be replaced after being rendered irreparable by a defender when play was in that area of the pitch, and the tackles were flying in thick and fast.

Another tackle, by Crawford on the hour, denied Ra in the act of shooting, while six minutes later, Davey did extremely well to pluck the ball off the head of the towering figure of Kim Yun Mi, after Kim Un Ju had flighted the sphere into the danger zone once more.

Davey denied the gangly striker again soon after, this time by smothering her shot, while the offside flag came to Australia’s aid in the 69th minute, as Ra raced through and was poised to pull the trigger with just the ‘keeper to beat.

Still they pounded away, the Koreans passing the ball all around the park in an effort to pierce the seemingly impregnable yellow brick wall which was confounding them. But the Matildas stood firm, occasionally relieving the pressure with hefty clearances which allowed the likes of returning star Kyah Simon to reacquaint herself with life on the world stage once more.

As things panned out, DPR had two further chances to draw level, the first of which came thirteen minutes from time. Kim Un Ju teamed up with Yun on the right, the latter’s cross picking out Kim Yun Mi, whose darting run to meet the ball took her across Polkinghorne. The striker was unable to guide her header on target, however.

The second opportunity was quite possibly the best of the game, and brought from Davey a save right out of the top drawer – a real ‘worldie’ which ensured her team of victory.

It was a concerted Korean attack, with Kim Un Ju calling the tune throughout. She brought Jon into play, and Kim Yun Mi was swiftly involved once more, before Kim Un Ju unleashed a shot which was blocked.

The rebound fell invitingly into the stride of Ra, who found herself in on goal with just Davey to beat. The Korean captain was still wondering how she had failed to equalise when the final whistle blew – Davey’s defiance was the reason.

It epitomised the Matildas’ performance, one which was far from pretty, but one from which they’ll take great heart, given this was their first international in nigh on nine months. Their second will be harder still – at 7pm on Thursday, they take on the Football Ferns in the final match of the tri-series, one not to be missed.

Match details

Australia:    Davey (gk); Uzunlar, Polkinghorne, Crawford (Brogan, 82), Catley (Foord, 46); Gorry (Kennedy, 61), Kellond-Knight (Polias, 66), Bolger; Crummer, Heyman (Simon, 61), Sykes (de Vanna, 71)

DPR Korea:    Hong Myong Hui (gk); Kim Un Hyang, Kim Un Ha (booked, 87), Kim Nam Hui; Wi Jong Sim, Kim Un Ju, Yung Song Mi, Ri Ye Gyong, Jon Myong Hwa (Jong Yu Ri, 69 (booked, 82)); Kim Yun Mi, Ra Un Sim

Referee:    Anna-Marie Keighley

Photo: from the JLS Photographs gallery: