FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023: How England exploited Australia’s weaknesses – tactical analysis
England have advanced to the Women’s World Cup Final for the first time after knocking out the tournament hosts, Australia, in a match that witnessed three goals for the Lionesses and one for Australia. This was one of England’s most important wins in history since it qualified them for a World Cup final after beating the hosts, knowing that the team didn’t always convince during the tournament so far. Although they performed well against China and Denmark, they weren’t as good against Nigeria and Columbia (before bouncing back after conceding a goal).
The team’s performance in the semi-final was relatively better and can be considered their best performance of the tournament so far, even though they did commit a few errors in this match as well, which is natural. Being able to resist Australia’s colossal crowd support in this match, given that they play on their home soil, and succeeding in not getting impacted performance-wise by these circumstances proved that this team is a united group with a strong personality and a desire to win.
Surpassing the period that followed Sam Kerr’s equalising goal was not easy at all, and England were focused enough to resist that complicated period before and after adding a second goal, knowing that Australia missed some concrete goalscoring chances, especially after conceding England’s second goal and could have completely changed the way this game ended.
On the other hand, Australia did their best to overcome a formidable opponent like England and were very close to equalising after conceding the second goal. And although Kerr was crucial in getting the team back in the match after conceding the first goal, she was also missing some key goalscoring chances that could have helped the team equalise for the second time and perhaps score a third goal.
Nevertheless, the blame shouldn’t only be directed towards Kerr mainly because she is getting back from an injury and is not 100% yet. Also, Kerr was not the only player who made errors in this match since there were a couple of devastating defensive mistakes that cost Australia the qualification ticket.
This tactical analysis article will focus on the Lionesses’ key tactics that helped them win the match while exploring the Matildas’ attacking and defensive errors. But before that, the analysis will begin with presenting both teams’ lineups.
Tony Gustavsson preferred to start the match according to the 4-4-2 formation with Mackenzie Arnold as a goalkeeper, Ellie Carpenter, Clare Hunt, Clare Polkinghorne, and Arsenal‘s Steph Catley in defence, Real Madrid‘s Hayley Raso and Caitlin Foord as wingers, Katrina Gorry and Kyra Cooney-Cross as midfielders while Sam Kerr and Mary Fowler formed the team’s attacking duo.
For England, Sarina Wiegman opted for the 3-4-1-2 formation using Mary Earps as a goalkeeper, Jess Carter, Millie Bright, and Manchester City‘s Alex Greenwood as centre-backs, Barcelona’s Lucy Bronze and Rachel Daly as wingers, Georgia Stanway and Keira Walsh as central midfielders, Ella Toone as an advanced playmaker and both Lauren Hemp and Alessia Russo as strikers. In other words, Hemp was the second striker with more freedom of movement, and Russo was the main striker.
The Lionesses’ key tactics and performance
Following Lauren James’ red card and ban, England didn’t struggle regarding chance creation, nor did they fail in recurrently reaching Australia’s final third. The 3-4-1-2 helped them a lot in securing their backline and especially in finding a suitable attacking idea that was implemented starting from the China match.
The presence of a dynamic player like Hemp upfront and as a second striker who has the freedom to move centrally and lean toward the wings at times was crucial as it surprised opponents and did not allow their defenders to mark her properly, given her quick and pacy movements with and especially without the ball.
Hemp has proved that she can be instrumental as a second striker and not just as a winger, and her overall performance highlights just that with one goal, one assist, and so many excellent movements.
In addition to her great effort in pressing, especially in the action that led to her goal, Hemp retreated numerous times to receive the ball from midfield and advance using her pace and dribbling before serving Russo. This was previously a role given to Fran Kirby, but in this match, Hemp could lead similar actions efficiently, especially during the third goal action.
Hemp intercepted a wrong pass in her team’s own half and dribbled past her opponent intelligently to start her advancing run and serve Russo with an accurate assist using her left foot for a pass between Australian players’ legs. This was one of Hemp’s best actions of the match, and Russo was clinical enough not to miss this opportunity to send her team to the final officially.
England had more than one playmaker in this match, as a few players were excellent in providing key passes and crosses, such as Greenwood, whose long passes were often dangerous and could have led to goals if exploited better.
In addition, Bronze and Daly played a crucial role in both the attacking and the defensive perspective as they were asked to support attacks and to retreat in a defensive line formed of five defenders when in the defensive phase, which guaranteed more compactness for England’s back line and fewer solutions for Australia’s attack.
The team’s first goal was scored by Toone, who was present when her team needed her and showed up with a convincing performance even though she was not as shining as Russo or Hemp. Nevertheless, her ability to shoot with power toward the top right corner without hesitation nor missing the target deserves a lot of credit, especially when knowing that this was the first goal of the match.
This goal was assisted by Russo, who wanted to play a one-two combination with Hemp, but the latter let the pass reach Toone, allowing her to be less marked since Hemp had attracted two defenders already.
From a defensive perspective, it should be said that the back-three idea suited England’s defenders’ characteristics and allowed them to be more efficient in stopping Australia’s threats. Bright, Carter, and Greenwood didn’t commit big mistakes and were crucial numerous times.
However, they received some criticism for conceding Kerr’s magnificent goal. In reality, Bright and Carter, who were involved in this action, couldn’t have done much more than what they did apart from Bright attempting a sliding tackle when Kerr decided to shoot to deflect the shot.
Otherwise, the two defenders moved how they needed to, knowing that this was a one vs two situation that soon transformed into a 2v2 action when Foord joined the effort.
At that moment, Carter had to lean towards Foord a bit to prevent her from receiving the ball while being in front of the goal. And at the same time, she could not concretely help Bright when defending against Kerr because that would have led to Kerr passing to Foord and the latter becoming completely free in front of Earps.
The Matildas’ attacking and defensive errors
The Matildas did their best to overcome a strong England but failed to do so due to many reasons and especially their incapability to resist England’s recurrent and dangerous attacks and pressing.
Australia did their best to stop Russo and Hemp’s threats but were not successful in doing so, not just because the two players performed well or because they received constant support from the wings and the middle but also because they committed some fatal individual mistakes such as the one following Kerr’s goal, which led to conceding a second goal at a terrible time for morale.
Carpenter’s inability to cover the ball or clear it away cost Australia a goal, knowing that she lost her balance and lost the ball to Hemp, who scored with a single touch. However, this shouldn’t be an excuse for losing the ball since Carpenter could have gotten rid of it with a clearance. Such errors in the World Cup semi-finals can only be impactful for both sides, and avoiding such mistakes in the future can help Australia achieve even greater results.
Attacking-wise, it should be said that Australia could have done better, even though this would sound frustrating to Australia’s supporters.
Relying a bit less on Kerr in terms of passing and trying to use other weapons, such as Fowler, more regularly could have relieved Kerr from the pressure and the defensive disturbance she was facing as soon as she got the ball and would have helped her to be even more dangerous and unpredictable.
This, however, doesn’t cancel the fact that she produced an excellent solo effort in her goal action, even though she was not 100% fit yet.
But at the same time, there was a sort of precipitation and a lack of concentration in front of goal from Kerr after conceding the second goal. She had the opportunity to score two goals, but she missed a header that could have easily been executed differently in the 81st minute and a volley that went above goal in the 84th minute.
England achieved their best-ever result in a World Cup so far and can make history by lifting the title if they beat Spain. Their performance against the Matildas can only give them more confidence in their abilities and motivation to perform even better to commit fewer mistakes against a tough finalist.
On the other hand, Australia should build on their historic result as well and keep their head high following an excellent overall performance in this World Cup.