It took Sam Kerr 10 World Cup games to find her first goal – but over 90 pulsating minutes in Grenoble the Matildas’ talisman fashioned four more, a first-ever hat-trick for an Australian in the tournament to help her side secure second place in Group C and an appointment with Norway in Nice.
Naming her “the best player in the world” pre-game, Jamaica’s coach, Hue Menzies, identified stopping Kerr and cutting out Australia’s supply from wide areas as his side’s two chief challenges. They could do neither.
Yet for over 60 minutes the Reggae Girlz delighted the 17,402 crowd, finally delivering a performance in keeping with their prodigious potential. Havana Solaun sent Jamaica’s fans into rapture shortly after the interval with their first ever World Cup goal. It was a work of art. Khadija Shaw – Jamaica’s Kerr – won the ball through pure determination, before feeding an exquisite pass that bisected Australia’s defence. Either side of this historic moment, though, Kerr would have her say.
As Australia’s position on the Group C live-ladder bounced dramatically – Marta’s penalty against Italy momentarily sending the Matildas into third – 12 hundred travelling Matildas fans cancelled AirBnBs in Nice, furiously researched Le Havre or Grenoble, before again settling on France’s coastal gem.
The permutations weren’t resolved until the final minute, the final kick. It kept a nervous tension inside the Stade des Alpes with as many dramatic peaks and troughs as Grenoble’s famous vistas.
A traveller to Grenoble doesn’t associate the Alps with blistering heat but under the watchful eye of the Chartreuse mountains a 29C sun shone even at 9pm as the game kicked off.
A vocal travelling Jamaica support was quickly quietened, though. With 11 minutes gone, Australia’s goal-getter-in-chief, Kerr, rose highest to head home Emily Gielnik’s cross. It was a sixth strike in nine games under the coach who handed her the armband.
As a gentler match cadence settled in, Australia continued to probe down the periphery and crosses peppered an increasingly retreating defensive line.
The bustling Shaw, dropping deeper to her preferred attacking midfield position, looked to spark a Jamaican fire once more – she left her mark on Carpenter with one robust challenge, before firing a Roberto Carlos-esque free-kick from long range to reinvigorate the Jamaican fan contingent.
But Katrina Gorry turned provider just before half-time and again it was Kerr who left Nicole McClure flat-footed between the posts.
She wouldn’t stop there, capping one of the all-time striker’s World Cup performances to guide Australia through in second to the last 16, with Italy top on goal difference, and Brazil third on head-to-head.