Foord on fire as relentless Matildas put eight past Philippines

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Fire shot into the afternoon sky. Blazing pitchside balls of heat just to welcome the warm-up. A bit of pyrotechnics in Perth on a Sunday never hurt anyone – and that was before the game began. You could call this Matildas performance electrifying.

You could call it scorching, or blistering, or any other fire-related analogy of choice. And they would all be accurate, because throwing flames is what Australia did in front of a sold-out Optus Stadium. By the time Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord had a hat-trick each, the stunning Mary Fowler had scored the opener and helped engineer many of the rest, and substitute Clare Wheeler finished the job, the Philippines were burnt to a crisp.

If the first half of this crucial Olympic qualifier was not Australia’s best half of football to date then it was mighty close. And perhaps that is what should be expected of World Cup semi-finalists. Perhaps we should have known it as soon as coach Tony Gustavsson made 10 changes to the XI which defeated Iran 2-0 on Thursday.

But how could anyone have predicted a full-time scoreline of 8-0? There was always the risk that this match could become more complicated than it needed to be. That the Matildas might have done that thing they have sometimes done in the past against disciplined defences such as this. And for the first 14-and-a-half minutes, the Philippines held their shape diligently in the face of every foray, inviting their teal-shirted aggressors to come at them and frustrate themselves.

The former occurred but the latter did not. The bloodletting began with a long diagonal ball from Alanna Kennedy. It found Raso, who fed to Kerr inside and who then met an overlapping Carpenter. The destination of her cross could have ended up on the boot of anyone, which of course meant it ended up on the boot of Fowler. Fowler, again shone as a left-winger. Her chemistry with Kerr is profound. Kerr’s chemistry with Foord is telepathic.

This starting XI as a unit are suffocating. And the more they pushed the Philippines back into their own penalty area, the more they squeezed them out of this contest, depriving them of oxygen and their Group A lead, and consigning them to their heaviest-ever defeat.

Sam Kerr and Mary Fowler were among many stars for the Matildas in Perth.Credit: Getty

Australia are now top heading into their final match against Taiwan, and in the box seat to qualify for February’s third and final phase on the path towards Paris 2024.

To describe the eight goals in detail here would not only be nigh on impossible, but also miss the small moments which defined this display. Kerr’s first goal, for example, was really about Foord. Foord was already turning defenders in such a way she had made the impossible appear easy. Then she linked up with Arsenal teammate Steph Catley on the left and spun away from no less than five Philippines shirts before cutting back for Kerr to finish.

Kerr’s goals got the biggest roar from the 59,155-strong crowd – a new football attendance record at Optus Stadium – but Foord’s were the most individually consequential.

The 28-year-old now has 33 international goals and sits outright fifth on the Matildas’ all-time goalscorers list, surpassing Sarah Walsh, who transferred the No.9 shirt to Foord when she retired.

Gustavsson rung the changes after the break, relieving Kerr, Raso, Kyra Cooney-Cross and Katrina Gorry to give others minutes.

That included Wheeler, who is fast pressing her case for more regular game time.

The only blight on an otherwise positive afternoon was when substitute Cortnee Vine appeared to injure her hamstring 10 minutes into her shift and was forced to return to the bench.

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