PARIS • In Valenciennes, a French city built on the twin industries of steel and lace, both Italy and Australia offered performances at the women's World Cup that were equal parts tough and elegant.
But it was the side dubbed by Matildas coach Ante Milicic as "one of the most improved teams in women's football" who announced themselves to the world yesterday.
In what may emerge as the clash of Group C favourites, it was an engrossing duel of cut and thrust, of rapier attack, and desperate defence.
And while the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) threatened to have the most decisive of all involvements, it was Italy's live-wire forward Barbara Bonansea who refused to see her nation denied.
Twice Italy took the lead, twice VAR denied it.
But in the 95th minute, Bonansea refused to accept her team's fate - rising highest to nod home the winner for a 2-1 victory.
Australia captain Sam Kerr had opened the scoring, firing home a rebound after her 22nd-minute penalty was saved by goalkeeper Laura Giuliani.
However, the Azzurre, back on the biggest stage after a 20-year absence, were not to be overawed by their meeting with the 2015 quarter-finalists.
Bonansea got the equaliser 11 minutes into the second half, seizing on a defensive mix-up, before following up with her last-gasp heroics.
But while Italy coach Milena Bertolini, whose side are now second in their group on goal difference behind Brazil, who beat debutants Jamaica 3-0 yesterday, was "very happy with this result", there was a tinge of caution in her comments.
She said: "It holds real value only if we get out of the group, so let's wait and see how great it is.
"In the first half, we didn't showcase our qualities. Australia were strong but we didn't do ourselves justice.
"In the second half, we wanted to show that we were superior to Australia and we improved a lot of things about our style of play."
Milicic, whose team have made the last eight at the past three editions of the tournament, however, vowed to stay true to Australia's attacking ethos despite the upset.
He added: "We are not going to change our style because we got caught at the back (for Bonansea's first).
"We will always build up from the back."
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN