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Matildas kick off 2019 with win over NZ at Cup of Nations

1 March 2019

FOOTBALL: After a tumultuous start to the year, the Matildas opened 2019 with a bang, claiming victory over the Football Ferns at the Cup of Nations on Thursday night.

In front of a 7,000-strong crowd at Leichhardt Oval in Sydney, the Matildas reigned victorious over trans-tasman neighbours, New Zealand, sealing the win 2-0.

The match-up also celebrated a significant milestone, marking 40 years since the Matildas played their first international ‘A’ game, also against the Football Ferns at Sutherland in 1979.

Guided by newly appointed coach, Ante Millicic, the result was a positive indication of things to come for the Australian side.

It was Emily Gielnik who opened the scoring for the Aussies, catching NZ keeper Erin Nayler off her line in the 44th minute.

But the fairy tale of the night came through Hayley Raso. Six months ago, the 24-year-old suffered a horrific injury, fracturing multiple vertebrae in her back and facing the possibility of not only a career-ending, but life altering blow.

Her first game back in the green and gold, and to the tune of a roaring home crowd, Raso was able to find the net within three minutes of returning to the pitch, providing her team with a two-point buffer.

The Matildas created several close chances, with shots from both Elise-Kellond Knight and Tameka Butt hitting the woodwork and Emily Van Egmond shooting just wide of the net.

Captain Sam Kerr almost made it onto the score sheet herself, with an on-target header denied by Nayler.

The hometown heroes maintained their lead in a positive taste of what’s to come as Australia heads towards the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and Tokyo 2020.

After the match, Raso said she was overwhelmed at being able to score in her first international game back from injury.

“I’m just so excited to be out here playing again and to get a goal topped it all off tonight,” she said.

“It was just overwhelming for me. I wanted to come out and keep getting minutes under my belt, so to score was just so exciting and it’s great to be back."

When asked about her thoughts on new coach, Millicic, the Brisbane Roar forward was positive about the team’s future under his guidance.

“He’s come in and done a great job for us. We’re all really excited to have him on board and it’s great to see where we can go from here.”

The feelings were mutual for Millicic, who praised his new team for their efforts and ability to bounce back after a rough start to the year.

“When you’ve only worked with the team for a few days it’s difficult to know how they’re going to execute your principles, but the girls were fantastic,” he said.

“When I look at just this one performance, I can see a clear, distinct playing style and that was important.

“To see the girls with smiles on their faces, I’m just happy for them,” he continued.

“It hasn’t been easy for them recently, and the focus needs to come back onto football as soon as possible and as much as possible and I’m rapt for them because they’re a great bunch.

"The team has seen a lot of improvement and a lot of quality and I think we can go to another level.”

The Matildas will continue their Cup of Nations campaign against Korea Republic at Suncorp Stadium on Sunday 3 March at 6.00 pm.

Liana Buratti

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