Australia’s match against Italy in Valenciennes was my first experience of the FIFA Women’s World Cup as well as my first experience of international women’s football.
I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. The day had everything from VAR drama to an injury time winner, surprisingly from underdogs Italy.
The Stade Du Hainaut, a 25,000 all-seater stadium built in 2011 and home to Ligue 2 club Valenciennes FC, is an ideal ground to host four group matches and two knockout fixtures. Although, the stadium wasn’t full that did not take away from the incredible atmosphere created by the two sets of fans.
As a neutral, I really enjoyed the family friendly feel to the occasion, with lots of children watching on, being inspired by their heroes. The stadium was easily accessible and the stewards and volunteers were friendly and helpful when finding your seats or buying food. There were no issues with language barriers with the volunteers and food vendors who I spoke to speaking both French and English.
After a frantic first 15 minutes, which saw both sides create a number of opportunities, it was VAR which created the first major talking point. Italy’s Barbara Bonansea was correctly adjudged to be offside after a lengthy VAR check. A foul by Italian captain Sara Gama on Sam Kerr led to a penalty which the same player stepped up to take. The penalty was well saved by Laura Giuliani in the Italian goal but Kerr was on hand to slot home the rebound.
Australia the missed two good chances before the break but went in to half-time leading 1-0.
The second half saw impressive Italian forward Bonansea capitalise on a mistake from Australian defender Clare
Polkinghorne to draw Italy level.
Further VAR drama with 10 minutes to go saw the Italians have a second goal correctly ruled out for offside, however, after surviving the last 10 minutes of Australian pressure, Bonansea grabbed her second of the game in the 95th minute to see the Italians leave with all three points in their first appearance at a FIFA Women’s World Cup for 20 years.
In summary, VAR is a brilliant concept to help the referees get every decision right and in the case of this game, it worked. However, there is still a long way to go before VAR is perfect. It was my also my first experience of witnessing a game using VAR live and it was good to see it working effectively.
Despite this, there are two major VAR improvements which I believe are needed to improve the fan experience at the game. Firstly, the time it takes for the decision to be made, it took nearly five minutes before the correct decision was made on the first VAR check. Secondly, the footage of what the referee and the VAR officials are seeing, should be shown on the screen to allow the fans to see why the goal was disallowed. All this being said, as a huge fan of women’s football I thought this game and the tournament in general has been a brilliant advert for women’s football so far.
There was no real FA Women’s Super League interest in this particular match, however, I am sure that both Australia and Italy could come up against some tough English-based players from other nations if they successfully advance from their group.
By Jamie Farrin (@jamiefarrin)