Italy scored a last-gasp winner to complete a fight back from a goal behind against Australia, coming out 2-1 winners in their opening 2019 Women’s World Cup match in Valenciennes.
In one of the tournament’s finest contests so far, Australia took the lead through a penalty – Sam Kerr missed the initial spot kick, but was on hand to sweep home the rebound.
However, Italy showed their resilience and fought back in the second half, with Juventus star Barbara Bonansea scoring both goals. Either side of Bonansea’s equaliser, Italy also saw two more goals disallowed – correctly – for offside by VAR.
Italy went into the match having not played a game at a Women’s World Cup finals since their group stage elimination back in 1999 in the United States.
Now ranked 15th in the women’s world rankings, they went into the match against an Australia side that sat nine places above them and who were hotly-tipped to be a powerful force in this year’s competition. Many saw them as being within a good chance of progressing to the final in Lyon. Italy were seen as a difficult hurdle, but one the Australians should have been able to overcome with relative ease.
Unsurprisingly, then, there were joyous scenes among the Italian camp at the full time whistle in Valenciennes’ Stade du Hainaut in northeastern France.
Italy thought they’d initially opened the scoring when Bonansea was threaded through courtesy of a beautifully-weighted ball, and the Juventus star held off the challenge of two defenders. Forcing her way into the box, she managed to squeeze the ball into the back of the net.
However, as has been a regular theme at these Women’s World Cup finals, VAR had the final say and ruled the goal out. Bonansea, on the replays, had been ever so marginally offside – and extremely harsh call, personally, but the system at least showed its reasoning for the decision.
While the scores remained level, the goal did imbue the Italians with confidence, which they needed not long after when Australia were awarded a golden opportunity to wrestle control of the game back.
Initially it looked like they had achieved just that, when Kerr was brought down in the box by Italy captain Sara Gama.
Kerr, and all-time record goalscorer in the top professional leagues in both her native Australia and the United States, stepped up to take it, and despite the initial penalty being saved by Laura Giuliani, she was able to fire home the rebound.
It was her first goal at the Women’s World Cup finals, in her ninth appearance across three tournaments. A huge moment, not just for Australia in the match, but personally, Kerr celebrated with something quite familiar to Australian football fans; boxing the corner flag much like Australian men’s team legend Tim Cahill.
Italy weren’t to be denied, however.
As the second half kicked off, Italy pressed the Australian repeatedly and finally got their just rewards.
A mistake at the back from Australia centre back Clare Polkinghorne gifted possession to Italy, and Bonansea took full advantage to pounce. Italy’s star performer in the match weaved her way into the penalty area before rounding the remaining Australia defender Alanna Kennedy and slotting home a cool finish.
It gave Italy the belief they needed, and soon they were the side in the ascendancy.
They thought they’d won the game too late on, when Daniela Sabatino was played in and managed to squeeze her effort past Lydia Williams in the Australia goal. The effort rebounded back off the upright, but Sabatino was quickest to react and slot home into the open net despite the tight angle.
However, in yet another cruel twist of fate against the Europeans, the offside flag once again ruled out the goal. VAR confirmed the decision, but replays showed Sabatino much more clearly offside than the earlier disallowed one.
Italy would have had all right to feel hard done by had the game finished 1-1, and it looked certain to be going that way right until the dying seconds.
In the fifth minute of stoppage time, Italy won a corner and fired it in, only to spark wild, jubilant celebrations when Bonansea, naturally, was on hand to head down and into the back of the net.
The underdogs in the match had snatched an incredible late point, and provided the first real shock of this Women’s World Cup finals in a highly entertaining game.
Heading into their next games, Italy will be thrilled to have already secured points on the board and be relatively confident of potentially securing a way out of the group stage.
For Australia, however, this result will have been a real knock for them. Favourites of many to go far in this tournament, it was not the result they needed, especially with a tough game against Brazil still to go in the group stage.
In the end, they’ll need to rally around and move forward, but losing the game will have hurt. Losing the game in the last few seconds, especially so, and it’ll be interesting to see if they can pick themselves back up and continue in the form they were expected to have, or if they may be one of the first major casualties at these finals.