The Matildas suffered a 3-2 loss to the Republic of Ireland in their friendly at the Tallaght Stadium in Dublin.
Two goals from Mary Fowler in the first half weren’t enough to stop the 33rd-ranked Irishman, who ended a seven-game losing streak in which she had scored just three goals, conceding 17.
In a huge descent from the heights of a fourth place at the Olympics, the Matildas looked extremely vulnerable defensively and were arguably beaten by an Irish side who pressed and harassed the Australians throughout.
“I felt like they wanted him more than us, that’s not good,” Tony Gustafson said after the game.
“We are the Matildas, it’s in our DNA to always give 100%, to play the physical game, to be aggressive, to wear the badge on our chest and to always do our best and it was like Ireland wanted more.
“I guess there’s a lot to learn from that, and when I take a distance emotionally, I’m going to have a lot of learning, but right now it’s a big disappointment.”
No goal characterized Australia’s defensive fragility better than the Irish winner in the 49th minute, when imposing defender Louise Quinn slipped through a static defense before ducking down to guide a header past the substitute goalkeeper at mid -time Lydia Williams.
Ireland had taken the lead in the third minute of the game when Lucy Quinn’s free-kick bounced off Mackenzie Arnold, hit the post, then slid into the back of the affected keeper.
The Matildas responded immediately thanks to Fowler’s first when the 18-year-old starlet’s powerful shot was mowed in the net by Courtney Brosnan.
Denise O’Sullivan gave Ireland the lead halfway through the first half thanks to a huge deflection of Kyra Cooney-Cross’s boot which left Arnold no chance, although nature fortuitous arrival cannot conceal that Ireland deserved its chance.
Fowler equalized for the Australians in the shadow of half-time with another deflected effort that buckled Brosnan, who could not be blamed in this case, or for the remainder of the game, after his previous horror show.
Mary Fowler scored two goals in the first half. (Getty Images: Stephen McCarthy / Sportsfile)
Sam Kerr, making his 100th game for the Matildas, was a peripheral figure, especially in the second half when she was largely ruled out of the game by Quinn, limited to brief appearances when the Australians pushed the ball forward.
A late yellow card for kicking the ball summed up the Australian skipper’s night as his quest for 50 international goals continues.
In contrast to her frustrated teammate, Fowler’s poise and balance was a rare high-point for the Matildas, who were missing six players from their Olympics run, and looked disjointed and disorganised in the face of sustained Irish pressure.
Fowler, who could have qualified to represent Ireland on account of her Irish father, regularly dropped into midfield to try and unlock the supremely organised ranks of Irish defenders with precise passing and clinical speed of thought.
However, with Ireland’s well organised swarming defence, the Matildas grew increasingly frustrated, resorting to long balls from deep to try and prise open the ranks of green shirts in front of them.
It was not all bad for the Matildas, as three players made their senior debuts: Charlotte Grant, Clare Wheeler and Angie Beard all came on as second half substitutes, although a knee injury to Chloe Logarzo threatens to put a further dampner on the night, subject to scans.
Look back on all the action as it happened at Dublin’s Tallaght Stadium in our live blog.