Australia were lucky against Brazil but can't rely on that fortune again
It is said one makes their own luck, but there is an intuitive clarity that comes with sensing when fortune favours a team. Teams and players know when things go their way, and try to ride that wave. Fortune can be primary, with desire secondary.
Football is a matter of interpretation, in both conceptual and situational terms. Meanwhile, luck and desire are often used as substitutes for grasping, let alone explaining, the cause and effect of games.
In an international tournament, that fortune can override everything and create momentum. In their opening two games against Italy and Brazil at the Women's World Cup, Australia have had significant tactical issues. But they've also been lucky.
The interesting part is how do Ante Milicic and his coaching staff respond to that reality, heading into Tuesday's Group C climax against Jamaica and possibly beyond?
Australia's 3-2 win over Brazil has been dubbed the "Miracle of Montpellier." Overturning a 2-0 deficit really is not the miracle, but that so much could go one side's way over the course of 45 minutes. Not to state a position on the legitimacy of Richard Thaler's hot hand theory but, on Thursday, the Matildas could have then gone to Monte Carlo and made miracles happen as well.
Caitlin Foord's goal on the stroke of halftime impacted momentum, but Vadao's decision to take both Formiga and Marta during the interval was huge. It had a dramatic impact on Brazil's overall ball speed, while putting untenable pressure on Andressa to create and progress the ball in their phases of possession over the second 45 minutes.
Specifically, Marta's allowance for Brazil to further incorporate players such as Cristiane and Debinha was nullified, and made the collective one-dimensional.
That initial ability to combine at speed put Elise Kellond-Knight and the Matildas' defence in an exploitable position, leading to Marta putting Brazil 1-0 up in the 27th minute. The Australian midfield's issues with defending while attacking, evident in the opening loss to Italy, again appeared before Cristiane doubled the margin in the 38th.
Then came Australia's two goals to turn the result around in the second half, facilitated by the sustained ascendancy those substitutions created. The goals were avoidable from a Brazilian perspective, but they were also borne of Australian pressure.
It's almost impossible to determine how much was fortune and how much was strategy, because changes Milicic did and didn't make also had a part to play.
Chloe Logarzo's goal should absolutely have been stopped by Monica in the 58th minute. Considering the distance and speed of Logarzo's shot/cross, a failure to commit makes for a rudimentary error, and exposes Barbara in the Brazilian goal.
Then comes the proverbial brain-fade of Monica's own goal in the 66th minute, putting Australia 3-2 up and their World Cup aspirations back on track. Although the interpretation of VAR means Sam Kerr is not offside, Kerr being in a technically offside position forces Monica's attempt at defensive intervention to begin with.
In those terms, there was an interference in play, but not within the framing of football's laws.
It must be noted, Logarzo's shift to a more central position on Thursday -- deployed as the most advanced midfielder instead of as an auxiliary forward against Italy -- proved a more compatible usage of her attributes. Her energy and movement meant Australia had a passing outlet in the middle of the pitch as lines stretched, while they could also recover the ball quicker in defensive phases.
However, the opening two games have showed the pros and cons of Kerr as a centre-forward. Compared to the Italy loss, Australia's play in attack was similarly dissociative against Brazil with Kerr up top. As evidenced with both second half goals in Montpellier and Sara Gama's foul before Kerr's penalty against Italy, her mere presence creates panic and consequent mistakes.
Logarzo's central deployment did not make for fluidity in Montpellier, but the Matildas were simply less disjointed than in Valenciennes.
Yet, here lies the dilemma. Despite the omnipresence of randomness, results themselves tend to justify or invalidate decisions, not a combination of result and complexion. In essence, the imbalance between finite and infinite strategy in football.
Milicic called the win over Brazil one of the finest Australian performances he had seen. Quite the statement, considering just how fortunate the Matildas were on Thursday. Resilience and effort are fundamental in football, and there were significant portions of both to get the three points over Brazil.
In both games so far, though, Australia were unable to take the ascendancy in scoreline and control the match's complexion. The only difference, Brazil just gave the game back to them.
That's ultimately unfitting of such quality, but also highlights the peculiar way in which a World Cup requires both immediate and gradual strategies.
There was no significant improvement in the generation of Australian opportunities, while attacking phases create susceptibility in defensive transition. But should interpretation be conditioned by the fact a singular result is different? Maybe, maybe not. Luck can do strange things at a World Cup, though.
The element of fortune is not exactly sustainable in international football, but it is still weirdly essential come tournament time. It's an intangible aspect of the game, and players and teams can sense when it is on their side.
At a tournament such as this, that kind of thing positively reverberates around a camp. That sense of togetherness was intense at the final whistle after defeating Brazil. The Australian team can be rightly galvanised, but the problems that plague the Matildas haven't exactly been resolved.