WA superstar Sam Kerr came off the bench to score as the CommBank Matildas started Round 2 of their Olympic qualifying campaign with a 2-0 win over IR Iran.
Ellie Carpenter got the other goas as Tony Gustavsson’s side squeezed past a compact and well-organised Iranian defence.
Perth was treated to a heavily rotated starting XI from the one that fans became familiar with during the World Cup. Amy Sayer made her first start since 2018, while players who were sparsely seen at the tournament - such as Alex Chidiac, Charli Grant, Courtney Nevin, and Clare Wheeler - were in the starting eleven alongside her.
Australia were always likely to dominate the statistics and so it proved, with the vast majority of the game played in Iran’s defensive third. Iran responded by playing a low block, meaning that they had at least nine players behind the ball at almost all times.
Finding a way to unlock that space was something that Gustavsson identified pre-game as an area of improvement for his side. Their ability to do so was tested to its limits against an Iran team that gave them very little space to work with, but they found a way through.
The first goal came from an unlikely source. Carpenter scored the fourth international goal of her career to break the deadlock in the 19th minute. After some good work from Cortnee Vine to find the byline, Charli Grant kept her composure from the cutback and played it to Carpenter, whose shot found its way into the back of the net for the opener.
Carpenter could have had a brace 12 minutes later after dragging a shot wide from a wonderful Chidiac through ball.
The fact that Carpenter – playing at right-back – was consistently in goal-scoring positions is an example of the nature of the game.
The second half began much like the first, with Australia dominating possession. However, they were struggling to find a way through, and as long as the score was 1-0 it remained a precarious situation for the home side.
To the delight of the home fans, Tony Gustavsson had plenty of firepower on the bench. He made a triple substitution for the ages in the 65th minute, with Steph Catley, Mary Fowler and hometown hero Kerr entering the pitch. The tempo immediately rose with their arrival.
All three players made a tangible impact for the second goal. Fowler’s clever pass released Catley on the wing, whose cross found Kerr at the back post. There was only going to be one outcome from there, and Kerr made it 65 goals in the green and gold in front of her home fans.
The team continued to create chances. Another substitute, Alanna Kennedy, missed the target on a free header from a corner. Kerr came close twice after sublime balls from Fowler, but just wasn’t able to get a clean connection.
However, the team would have to settle for a 2-0 victory. The three points were secured, and the scoreline was a testament to Iran’s defensive resilience.
Attention will now turn to game two against the Philippines on Sunday.