Barbara Bonansea headed in a corner kick five minutes into second-half injury time — her second goal of the game — to give Italy a 2-1 victory over Australia in Valenciennes on Sunday.
It was a triumphant return to the World Cup for Italy, a power in men’s soccer that was making its first appearance in the Women’s World Cup since 1999.
Bonansea, a 27-year-old who powers the attack of her Italian club Juventus, also scored her national team’s first goal, stripping the Australian defender Clare Polkinghorne and slotting home a shot in the 56th minute. She scored the winner by outjumping Australia’s star forward, Sam Kerr, for a cross at the back post off a last-gasp corner kick.
Bonansea also had a goal disallowed in the first half after a video review confirmed she had started her run near midfield from an offside position.
Kerr, the 25-year-old striker who leads the Australian attack, gave her country an early lead when she won a penalty kick after she was pulled down by Italy center back Sara Gama. Kerr’s initial shot from the spot was saved, but the rebound came straight back to her and she slammed it in. It was her first World Cup goal in three appearances in the tournament.
[Interactive: Australia’s Sam Kerr can’t stop scoring.]
The result scrambled the race to win Group C before all the teams have played. Brazil and Jamaica met later Sunday, and Australia still has to play both in the first round. Its next test — against Brazil on Thursday in Montpellier — could be even more difficult.
Italy is jubilant at the whistle; Australia is crestfallen.
The Matildas can’t seem to believe what has happened to them, but that was not a good performance: sloppy, shaky, and they let Sam Kerr, their best scorer, drift out of the game in the second half. And then they got punished.
90 + 5’
GOOOOOOOOOOAL!!! ITALY HAS WON IT!!
Italy does it! Giacinti, the forward thrown on for a defender, wins a last-gasp corner, and they loft a ball toward Bonansea at the back post — and she scores!
Bonansea rose above Kerr to win that ball — driving it down into the ground and into the net. What a stunning finish to this one.
90 + 1’
Gama stops Kerr, but Australia is really pressing Italy now.
Kerr is doing everything she can to find a winner now: crosses, a shot there blocked by Gama at the last moment. She even flopped once to try to win a penalty. If there is a goal coming, it really feels as if it will be an Australian one. But no guarantees Italy will buckle, and the Matildas’ pressure leaves them vulnerable to a counter if the Italians have one in them.
Gooo— Nope. Italy has a second goal ruled out.
Sabatino, the substitute forward who came on earlier, just collected a rebound off the post and banged the ball under Williams for what looked to be the go-ahead goal.
But the lineswoman’s flag goes up almost immediately, and V.A.R. confirms quickly. That’s the second Italy goal wiped out by an offside flag today.
Italy subbing with intent now: a forward for a defender.
Valentina Giacinti, a forward, has replaced Berndeschi, Italy’s right back. That’s a real statement by Coach Milena Bertolini: She isn’t content with a draw, which would be a good result for the Italians. She’s going to push for a win.
But that mind-set, which is welcome from an Italian coach, carries its own risks. Kerr has been quiet lately. But she won’t be forever, right?
Another long V.A.R. delay for a possible Australia handball.
The latest stoppage — to check if a ball that hit the substitute Lisa De Vanna in Australia’s penalty was “a clear and obvious error.” The V.A.R. official and the referee have concluded it was not deliberate, and play continues. But that is the second or third long V.A.R. delay today. Every call has been proved right, but it’s also a sign that the referees, many of whom have not used the system in big matches, are still working out the kinks.
Delays are the biggest gripe about V.A.R. — that it ruins the flow of games. But players and coaches alike pushed for its use at the Women’s World Cup, and seem confident that correct calls are worth any growing pains.
De Vanna comes on for Australia.
Moments after the goal, Lisa De Vanna — Australia’s career scoring leader — comes on for Logarzo on the left side of midfield. She is a nice luxury for Milicic off the bench, but with the lead gone, he needs her spark — she has scored in the last three World Cups — and Australia needs to get back to pounding service into Kerr in the middle.
GOAL BONANSEA! And we’re tied!
Barbara Bonansea has tied things up with a bit of opportunism. Sensing a bit of a casual vibe in Australia’s back line, she pounces off a too-long touch by center back Clare Polkinghorne, strips the ball from her in some dead space on the right side and charges in free on Williams. Cutting left, she loses her footing on her shot but still slides it into the right corner for the tying goal.
We talked about how the center was looking soft; Bonansea just landed a gut punch.
Italy makes a halftime change to try to spark its midfield.
Elisa Bartoli, the Roma captain, comes on for Aurora Galli. Italy really needs to start getting Bonansea some better service, or at least some more consistent time on the ball. The best things it has done so far have involved her.
Australia 1, Italy 0 at the break.
Australia leads on Kerr’s penalty, which was fairly won and coolly converted after an initial save for the first World Cup goal of her career. But the game was close — Italy had a goal disallowed (correctly) for offside, and it has sent some probing balls into the center of the Australian defense. Australia will feel good about that half, though, knowing it probably should have had more than one, and it will keep its foot on the gas in pursuit of another goal.
Concerns in central defense for both teams.
Seconds after Australia’s Chloe Logarzo had an open header at the penalty spot saved by Giuliani, it’s worth noting that both teams are having some issues in the center. Italy keeps trying to play direct balls up the middle for Girelli and Bonansea, and it has worked a few times.
Italy, meanwhile, keeps losing marks in the area. Not a good thing to do when Sam Kerr is lurking in there and Ellie Carpenter is rampaging up the wing or slashing into the middle.
GOOOOAL!! Sam Kerrrr!
Australia leads, 1-0, as Kerr steps to the stop, fires left — sees her shot SAVED by Giuliani! — and then pounces on the rebound to finish.
That, believe it or not, is Kerr’s first goal in three trips to the World Cup. But she has a fan in the former Australia star Tim Cahill. Game recognize game.
PENALTY! Gama pulls down Kerr.
They were wrestling in the area and Kerr goes down. Clear penalty. Gama had her with both hands as the ball arrived.
A frantic start has slowed down a bit.
Or maybe it hasn’t. The first five minutes of this game played as if the game was on fast forward. Kerr had two chances, Italy punched back. But Bonansea’s goal and the delay seemed to have cooled things a little. But only a little.
Italy takes the lead! Oh wait: OFFSIDE!
But no — Barbara Bonansea, who made a stumbling and bumbling breakaway run from midfield, beats Williams but is ruled offside (correctly). She was a step behind the defense at midfield at the start of her run.
The first chances are Australia’s, and one is nearly an accidental goal.
A cross comes in from the left and is punched by the Italian keeper — directly into Kerr, and the ricochet nearly caroms into the net.
Australia is back a minute later, again feeding Kerr in the center. This time, she heads close, but over the crossbar. Not really a secret what they plan to do today, but Italy better keep closer track of her.
The starting lineups for Australia and Italy are out.
Australia: Williams; Carpenter, Polkinghorne, Kennedy, Catley; Foord, Logarzo, Van Egmond, Yallop, Raso; Kerr (c)
Italy: Giuliani; Guagni, Linari, Gama (c), Bergamaschi; Giugiano; Galli, Gernoia; Bonansea; Mauro, Girelli
The strange hole in Sam Kerr’s résumé.
Sam Kerr might be the best pure goal-scorer in women’s soccer at the moment, but there still is one place she has never scored: the World Cup.
This summer’s trip to France will be Kerr’s third World Cup, but almost astonishingly for a player of her skills and scoring record — 31 goals in 77 games since making her national team debut as a 15-year-old in 2009 — she has yet to find the net in one.
“Every time I step on the field I want to score for my country, but to do it in a World Cup would be a dream come true,” Kerr said. “I haven’t done that. But I feel like I’m a different player this World Cup, I feel like I’m a different person. I feel like I’m better prepared, I know more about the game, I know more about my own game. And I feel like I’m just smarter.
“Look, if I don’t score and we win the World Cup I’m going to be happy. It’s not about me, this World Cup, it’s about the team.”
For more on Kerr’s remarkable scoring abilities, make sure you see this interactive our graphics team put together.
Australia, Italy and the “fear” factor that isn’t there.
Italy is in the World Cup for the third time, but for the first since 1999. It is the longest gap between appearances of any team in the tournament’s history.
The team’s rise may have taken a while, but there was no denying it: The Italians allowed only four goals in European qualifying, and a spine that is built around Sara Gama, the captain of Italy and Juventus, and several of her club teammates offers both grit and continuity.
Australia Coach Ante Milicic heaped praise on the Italians this week in what appeared to be less gamesmanship and false flattery than a genuine respect for the team Italy has become.
“They are one of the most improved teams in women’s football,” he said. “Individually they’re very strong, tactically very flexible, very strong on set pieces.”
That praise was news to Gama on Saturday when she was informed — incorrectly — by Italian journalists that Milicic had said Australia “feared” the Azzurre.
“Really? Wow,” Gama said. “It means that we have worked long and hard. It’s good to hear that the other national teams start to fear us; that’s significant to us. We were already well aware of how we were growing and getting stronger, and now we have been able to show it.”
Her coach, Milena Bertolini, took the plaudits less seriously.
“Australia should fear us,” she joked. “And that’s good.”
Australia arrived at the World Cup trailed by innuendo.
Alen Stajcic was the coach who led Australia through qualifying and into the World Cup, but he won’t be in the team’s dugout on Sunday. The reasons continue to perplex those who follow the team.
The Australian Football Federation fired Stajcic in January after it said two confidential team surveys had found what was described as “a culture of fear” in the team. The decision disrupted World Cup preparations, and even shocked a few of Australia’s best players.
Ante Milicic, a former assistant with the country’s men’s national team, stepped into the head job after Stajcic’s departure, but there has been continued criticism in Australia of the coaching change and the lack of clarity for what was behind it.
In that void, and amid a climate of allegations that men in soccer had abused their power over women, speculation and innuendo grew to such a point that, on May 31, Australia’s soccer federation and one of its directors issued separate apologies to Stajcic confirming he had not been fired for misconduct.
“F.F.A. by this statement wishes to make clear that Alen Stajcic’s contract was not terminated on the basis that he had breached his contract or had engaged in any misconduct,” the F.F.A. said. “Any inference that has been drawn about these being reasons for Alen’s contract termination is wrong.”
It added: “F.F.A. acknowledges that some of the speculation about the termination of Alen’s contract was caused by statements made by one of its directors, Heather Reid.”
Reid, who had said at the time of the coaching change that if the truth were to come out, Stajcic would “never work again in women’s football,” said she apologized “unreservedly” to the coach and his family.
“I understand that my conduct in making public and private statements may have caused serious damage to Mr. Stajcic’s reputation, both in Australia and internationally,” Reid said.
About half of the questions in Australia’s prematch news conference on Saturday in Valenciennes raised the topic in one way or another. One referred to a long newspaper article published last week that detailed infighting and sexual politics inside the F.F.A. that it said led to Stajcic’s ouster.
Kerr and Milicic, though, declined to engage on the topic.
“It’s all outside noise for us to be honest,” Kerr said.