With a two decade run up, Italy fans were understandably anxious as the Azzurre took the World Cup stage for the first time since 1999, doubly so when you consider what, or who, they were up against: 6th ranked Australia and their all-world striker Sam Kerr. Not an easy task for any country, let alone one trying to re-establish itself on the world stage.
While the players themselves didn't show any outward signs of nervousness, things didn't start off great, like, literally from the first second when Australia took the opening kickoff down the pitch, forcing an attempt on goal.
The Azzurre nearly grabbed a shocking lead in the 9th minute thanks to some slick work from Barbara Bonansea, but her late run off the ball, and the subsequent goal, were called off by the slimmest of offside calls.
Needless to say, this took the wind out of Italy's sails for a moment. Italy were well organized but they were no match for Australia early in this match, as the Matildas were able to pump the ball into Kerr seemingly at will, and while Sara Gama and the rest of the back line held their shape well enough, they were ultimately victimized by Kerr in the 22nd minute.
After being taking down in the box by Gama, Kerr stepped up to the penalty spot only to be denied by Juve keeper Laura Giuliani, who unfortunately could not control the rebound, leaving it on a platter for Kerr.
Italy did well enough to contain and counter Australia for the next 20 minutes or so, but they were not able to find an equalizer before the stroke of half time.
Bertolini opted for one change to start the second half, bringing on AS Roma captain Elisa Bartoli for Aurora Galli. No change to the shape or tactics, but Bartoli sharing time at left-back was pretty much par for the course for Bertolini during qualification.
While neither side really upended things to start the second half, Italy would finally find their breakthrough thanks to a sensational individual effort from Bonansea.
Barbara Bonansea: 56th Minute (Australia 1, Italy 1)
ALL TIED UP!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 9, 2019
Barbara Bonansea makes Australia pay for a mistake in the back and scores Italy's first #FWWC goal in 20 years. pic.twitter.com/Svh2PawLBc
What an exhibition of skill from Bonansea here, stealing the ball, driving right at the goal and then putting the defender on the back heel before beating the keeper. Great concentration, great effort and great execution from Bonansea.
With the match on level pegging, things really opened up. Australia kept pushing forward through Kerr and Carpenter, and sensing a chance to strike and take the lead in Group C, Bertolini made a pair of attacking substitutions in the second half, bringing on the AC Milan attacking duo of Daniela Sabatino and Valentina Giacinti.
And for a moment, it seemed like a stroke of genius when Sabatino scored shortly after coming on, but thanks to yet another offside call, Italy were denied their moment...but not for long.
Barbara Bonansea: 95th Minute (Australia 1, Italy 2)
WHAT A MOMENT!— FOX Soccer (@FOXSoccer) June 9, 2019
Barbara Bonansea scores deep into extra time for Italy's first #FIFAWWC win in 20 years. pic.twitter.com/db1y7fcmoA
After an impressive feat of strength from Giacinti, who held off three defenders and actually nutmegged her way into open space, the referee awarded a bit of a delayed free kick deep in Australian territory, giving Italy a slim chance of hope in stoppage time, and up stepped Valentina Cernoia, who delivered a perfect cross to Bonansea on the far post for this match winner.
We highlighted Bonansea in our preview piece last week for a good reason, and her total package was on display today; she was Italy's best outfield player by a country mile and should be the engine driving the Azzurre forward this summer.
The simple narrative would paint this as an upset—Australia are well ahead of Italy in the rankings and are arguably one of the favorites here—but Italy never backed down after Kerr converted that PK midway through the first half.
Instead they just kept coming. Through their shape and discipline in the back, punctuated by Gama's relentless pursuit of Matildas all over the box, Italy was able to absorb whatever Australia threw at them, and thanks to Bonansea, Girelli and later Giacinti and Sabatino breaking out, Italy's counter attack was deadly, and could have ran this scoreline up were it not for a few ill-timed runs.
We can't overstate how big this victory was for Italy, who will face Jamaica on the 15th. With a three point cushion over Australia, Italy have put themselves in the drivers seat for the knockout stages. If they can dispatch Jamaica, six points might be good enough to get them through, depending on the result of Australia v. Brazil.
Either way, we talked a lot about the Azzurre making a name for themselves this summer, and this is how you do it.