Ref farce as Matildas suffer brutal exit
It's over. The Matildas World Cup has come to a brutal end in a penalty shootout after some farcical referee and VAR calls. But it was the shattering message from Caitlin Foord that really broke our hearts.
With the scores locked at 1-1 after extra-time, Sam Kerr skied Australia's first penalty and Emily Gielnik missed the second in a 4-1 shootout loss to send Ante Milicic's side packing and start what is sure to be a thorough inquest into the performance of a team tipped to be a decent shot at winning the trophy.
The nightmare in Nice marks the Matildas' worst World Cup result since 2003, having reached the quarter-finals in the last three tournaments.
Australia were on the brink of exit several times on an extraordinary night of drama underlined by a controversial penalty decision and red card.
Isabell Herlovsen scored Norway's opener in the 31st minute, before the video assistant referee robbed Australia of an equaliser when Maria Thorisdottir handballed but the referee overturned her decision to award a penalty just before halftime.
But Elise Kellond-Knight stepped up to curl a corner straight through everyone's legs in the 83rd to force the end-to-end contest to 120 minutes.
In extra-time, Vilde Boa Risa hit the crossbar and goalkeeper Lydia Williams was forced into some stunning saves, before Alanna Kennedy was dismissed for tugging the shirt of Lisa-Marie Utland as the last defender.
With 10 players on the park and their backs against the wall, the Matildas avoided the killer blow time and again as Norway peppered their goal but couldn't get their eye in.
In the end it was a futile exercise.
Norway coach Martin Sjögren foreshadowed they'd sit back and play on the counter against better opponents back before his side's group match against France. He hinted the same thing before this game, and even called Australia's defence "leaky". It was mission accomplished in the 31st minute when Karina Saevik found Herlovsen and the striker cut past a too-slow Catley and got herself into a one on one with Lydia Williams.
VAR STILL NOT A CLEAR AND OBVIOUS PROCESS
Dare we say VAR-cical? The problematic implementation of the technology was on show just before halftime when Thorisdottir appeared to bend down and push and Ellie Carpenter cross away with her upper arm.
German referee Riem Hussein awarded the penalty immediately but then waited for the VAR to have a look. After a long review, throughout which penalty-taker Kerr was left standing on the spot, Hussein overturned the decision.
Thorisdottir had clearly moved her body towards the ball and, even if there was question, it did not meet the clear and obvious error threshold. Compounding the decision was that Australia had further penalty appeals waved away.
KERR-RIFFIC REPUTATION HELPS MATILDAS
The superstar striker was a marked woman, the Norwegians not giving her an inch of space. The result was a tough shift for Kerr but less defenders on Foord and Raso, who plotted and schemed and engineered flashes of promising attacking passages that showed it is possible to break down a disciplined Nordic defence.
Raso in particular was a delight with nippy runs and turns into space in the box but continues to lack the finishing touch, shooting straight into the waiting arms of Ingrid Hjelmseth.
OFFSIDE KILLED THE KERR
It was just before the hour, shots were flying off the rack like the X hotcake and she looked to have (finally) found the equaliser Australia so sorely needed. Kerr collected a pass and took her time to set up a lovely finish, but the celebrations were quickly cut short when the flag went up for a clear offside.
The almost-goal had the Matildas' tails up and Yallop, Raso, Foord and Kerr rained down on goal and gave it everything but the finish.
KELLOND-KNIGHT IN ARMOUR
Australia had the lion's share of possession at the momentum yet still struggled to create any real chances. Step up Kellond-Knight for an inswinging corner that rushed through the legs of both Matildas and defenders and tucked inside the far post.
WHAT THEY SAID:
"I am proud of the team, we fought back, went down a man. It sucks to lose on penalties. We will learn from this and grow from this.
"I think the first half wasn't our best but the second we came out and dominated. We would like to have won it in the 90, but this is how you grow and becomes stronger.
"I feel like we have let some people down. I'm proud of the team, a lot of girls have sacrificed so much to be here. We have stuck together through thick and thin and this has been a rollercoaster ride for us. "
"I'm shattered, this is a dream to win a World Cup, to go home now is heartbreaking. There's so many emotions right now, it is hard to remember what went on. Possibly (unfair from the ref) but it doesn't matter now anyways. "We gave it all we could, a game can go any way, we're a strong group and we stay together. Now we look at Olympic qualification. "We would say sorry (to the supporters), we appreciate all the support, keep believing in us."