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Steph Catley nets winner for Australia against Republic of Ireland

SoccerNews in General Soccer News 20 Jul 2023

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Steph Catley ensured co-hosts Australia opened their World Cup campaign with a 1-0 victory over the Republic of Ireland despite the absence of star striker Sam Kerr.

Catley’s second-half penalty was enough to clinch three points for the Matildas in front of a record crowd of 75,784 at Stadium Australia in Sydney.

However, they had to do it the hard way after their record goalscorer Kerr was ruled out of the first two Group B games with a calf injury suffered in training.

Vera Pauw’s side, making their debut at a major tournament, made life difficult throughout for a side ranked 10th by FIFA, 12 places above Ireland.

But despite a late flurry, they were unable to get themselves back on level terms and will now turn their attention to next Wednesday’s clash with Canada in Perth.

For Australia, there was relief after three hard-earned points were banked to match the feat of co-hosts New Zealand, who had earlier stunned Group A rivals Norway with a 1-0 victory in Auckland, ahead of their second fixture against Nigeria next Thursday.

In a tight first half, Pauw’s well-organised defence limited the Matildas to threatening from set-pieces and a Katrina Gorry attempt from distance.

However, the breakthrough arrived seven minutes into the second half when midfielder Hayley Raso, who enjoyed a full-blooded battle with Ireland skipper Katie McCabe, was bundled over by Marissa Sheva in the penalty area and referee Edina Alves pointed to the spot.

Arsenal defender Catley, wearing the armband in place of Chelsea’s Kerr, whose shock absence had been confirmed barely 75 minutes before kick-off, drilled the resulting spot-kick into the top corner to ease the tension inside the stadium.

To their credit, the Republic, who edged past Scotland in a play-off to book their ticket to the finals, refused to throw in the towel and immediately set about the task of trying to drag themselves back into the contest.

Indeed, Australia coach Tony Gustavsson sent on veteran Clare Polkinghorne to shore up his defence as Megan Connolly sent a late free-kick on to the roof of Mackenzie Arnold’s net and McCabe scuffed an attempt towards goal.

But with play-off heroine Amber Barrett sitting on the bench, Ireland were unable to find a way past Arnold and ended their big day with plaudits, but no points.

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