Cortnee Vine scored his first international goals as the Matildas relieved the pressure on manager Tony Gustavsson with an emphatic 4-1 victory over South Africa.
The Africa Cup of Nations winners were modest opposition, but the way Australia controlled the game and converted their chances was a timely boost after a poor run of results.
It was all the more impressive because it was largely achieved without Chelsea’s Sam Kerr, who had not been feeling well before Saturday’s game at Kingsmeadow, his club’s compact ground in south-west London.
Kerr appeared in the final 10 minutes, much to the delight of his fans in the sparse crowd of 1,417, but the game was won long ago.
In his absence, deputy captain Steph Catley provided leadership, playing a hand in four goals, and Vine a leading presence down the scoring line as a centre-forward.
The Sydney FC striker scored twice in the first 25 minutes. Clare Polkinghorne (42) and Caitlin Foord (54) added more goals before South Africa won one last consolation prize.
“The girls played really well,” Vine told Paramount Plus after the game.
“It was a very good result and obviously I’m happy to score.
“We’ve had a pretty good week of training this week before the game… the intensity has been there in every session and obviously to finish it off with a win is exactly what we wanted.”
Kerr was one of four changes from the XI beaten 2-1 in Sydney by Canada last month, all of them forced. Lydia Williams, Tameka Yallop and Emily van Egmond were also missing, and Teagan Micah, Catley, Kyra Cooney-Cross and Hayley Raso entered.
Williams was out with an ankle injury, which also ruled out the Paris St Germain goalkeeper being able to play in Denmark on Tuesday (Wednesday 03:00 AEDT). That gave Micah a chance to claim a job Gustavsson said he would make a firm decision on soon.
Not that Rosengard’s number 1 had much to do, as Australia dominated from the start, making a breakthrough in the fifth minute.
Catley, overlapping regularly on the left, forced a corner that she took herself.
Mary Fowler rose unopposed and her header went through the arms of substitute goalkeeper Regirl Ngobeni and fell into the post. Less than a meter away, Vine scored her first international goal, the easiest goal she had ever scored.
His second, however, showed a touch of ingenuity. Catley capitalized on a loose pass and cleanly released Arsenal team-mate Foord, whose cross was cleverly finished off by Vine.
Vine could have scored a half-hour hat-trick, but he shot just wide of another Catley cross.
Australia was not denied for long. Before the match they had identified the lack of height in Banyana Banyana’s defense and shortly before half-time they converted a Catley corner again. This time, Polkinghorne lost his marker and headed to the near post.
The fourth was a virtuoso goal from Foord, taking a pass from Catley and dribbling forward before firing into the far post.
Gustavsson, wearing a green and gold scarf as he stood in unseasonable sunshine, made a number of changes for the closing stages but Australia remained in control. However, a better goalkeeping and some missed opportunities kept the score low.
Sure enough, the final goal came from South Africa. Center halves Aivi Luik and Polkinghorne failed to deal with a long clearance and Hildah Magaia cleared before touching Micah, who was stranded outside his line.
The sloppiness of the goal will have tempered Gustavsson’s joy with Denmark’s most demanding test ahead.