Valenciennes: A 95th minute winner from two-goal hero Barbara Bonansea gave Italy their first FIFA Women’s World Cup win in two decades and dealt a blow to Australia’s hopes in the opening Group C match on Sunday.
Sam Kerr opened the scoring with her first career World Cup goal, but Juventus ace Bonansea scored twice in the second half to punish a listless Australia, who now have a significant challenge ahead if they are to salvage their France 2019 campaign.
The Matildas will look to bounce back against Brazil on Thursday, knowing defeat in that match could deliver a fatal blow to their knockout stage hopes.
Two early Kerr involvements signalled Australia’s intent at Stade du Hainaut, but Italy responded quickly and were unfortunate not to have taken the lead through Bonansea in the 11th minute.
The lively forward looked to have caught Australia’s high defensive line cold before putting the ball into the net from 10 yards, but thr Italian celebrations were short-lived, with the goal ruled out for the narrowest of offsides.
The Matildas responded from that early scare in the right manner, and they took the lead through a 22nd minute penalty after Italian captain Sara Gama brought her Australian counterpart Kerr down in the box, with Kerr stepping up to convert the rebound after Italian goalkeeper Laura Giuliani saved her initial spot-kick.
Australia nearly doubled the lead five minutes later, when Giuliani was forced to turn what looked to be a routine ball into the penalty area from Emily van Egmond onto the crossbar, before Cristiana Girelli reminded Ante Milicic’s side of Italy’s threat, forcing a fine reflex save from Lydia Williams.
With teenage full-back Ellie Carpenter increasingly influential down the right hand side, the sixth-ranked Australians ended the first half in command, with Giuliani keeping out a late Chloe Logarzo header to maintain a one-goal margin at the interval.
Australia created a series of openings early in the second half, the best of which fell to Foord, whose effort was well saved by Giuliani, but the match turned sharply on a disastrous effort from Clare Polkinghorne, who was caught in possession close to her own goal, allowing Bonansea to easily slot home a 56th minute equaliser.
It could have been worse for Australia, particularly when the Video Assistant Referee took a second look at a potential handball offence by substitute Lisa De Vanna, which would have presented the Italians with a spot-kick, but the contact was deemed to be accidental.
Italy had the ball in the net once again, this time through substitute Daniela Sabatino nine minutes from time, but the veteran forward was flagged for offside before beating Williams from close range.
Having survived those fraught moments, Australia surged forward in search of a late winner, but it was the Italians who found it, with Williams losing her footing while defending a set-piece, allowing Bonansea to head home a priceless goal in the fifth minute of stoppage time.
Italy now have a chance to seal their passage to the last 16 against Jamaica, while Australia have no room for a similar showing against the South American champions.
Photos: FIFA via Getty Images