Matildas find their feet, and the back of the net, in strong win over Czechia

The Matildas first outing in the Cup of Nations had a slow start, but a dominant second half gave the home side a 4-0 victory by the final whistle.

Thursday night was the opening night of the Cup of Nations - the Matildas' final international hitout before the home World Cup kicking off later this year.

In the dress rehearsal, the Matildas have three matches in close proximity, with a key opportunity for fringe players to press for selection.

One player who doesn't need to prove anything at the selection table is Clare Polkinghorne, who was given the captain's armband in her 152nd match, a record for the most caps for an Australian footballer.

The opening salvoes of the match had no scoring impact, as each side probed the defensive front of the other, testing for vulnerabilities. Steph Catley shined for the Matildas, combining well with Hayley Raso to trouble the Czechia defensive group on the left wing.

Raso continued to run and exploit any space she was given, but some errors and some miscommunications prevented the home side from finding the back of the net in the first half.

Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson will want to remember the halftime speech he used in this dress rehearsal, as the second half was a different Matildas group. The home side were ruthless, relentless and in rhythm.

Raso was the beneficiary of a Sam Kerr pass early in the second half, and was able to put the ball into the back of the net, as the crowd breathed a sigh of relief.

Moments later, she doubled the lead with a header, after a stunning assist from debutant Clare Hunt. Within 10 minutes of the break, the Matildas had created a gap, and never looked back.

Just after the hour mark, Alex Chidiac was introduced into the game, and within minutes, sent a fizzing shot into the box. The attempt didn't find the back of the net, but it deflected into the middle, and Sam Kerr was all too happy to extend her margin as Australia's greatest scorer in international football.

As the match continued to tick along, with the Matildas leading 3-0, it was a corner from Chidiac that created the opportunity for the last goal. Chidiac and Raso combined to put the ball at the feet of the captain, and Polkinghorne obliged, scoring a goal in her milestone match.

After the match, Raso was quick to acknowledge the home crowd.

"We love coming back to Australia and playing on home soil," she explained.

"We struggled a bit in the first half, but came out in the second half firing, and it was really nice to get four goals and a clean sheet as well."

Gustavsson was quick to give credit for the halftime speech to his talismanic striker, and he was pleased to see his charges execute those changes in the second half.

"What did Sam do," he joked. "It was her half-time speech."

He explained that it was no accident that the Matildas had invited Czechia to play in the Cup of Nations ahead of the World Cup.

"What we are asking now is key in the World Cup. It's how we respond to a first half like this. One of the reasons that we planned to play Czech Republic is that we've seen what they've done to top oppositions before and we're trying to look for an opposition that somehow replicate Ireland.

"What we said at half time, was what if this was the opening game of the World Cup, with 80,000 in the stands frustrated.

"If we let that come to us, we probably don't see this second half, and Sam also spoke about that - don't freak out, don't stress out, believe in the plan, believe in the process.

"The team knew to do it better - that push, to do it better."

For Gustavsson, he is now in the final phases of a long-term plan that was focussed around success at the World Cup - all of the tournaments and matches have been building blocks to this point.

"This game was not about three days preparation that we've had, it's about what we've done in two years. Having a clear game plan, clear game management structures, but also having game changers.

"We've spoken about that a lot, that it's not just about your starting eleven, and to understand to play the game from the bench, and I think they did that."

Raso paid tribute to the milestone captain, Polkinghorne, who has now taken sole ownership of the lead for the most caps representing Australia.

"Polks [Polkinghorne] is basically the epitome of this team. She is incredible - she's an amazing leader, you see the way she plays. It's really special for us to be a part of this with her.

"It's amazing, it's such a big milestone and she's so important to this team."

The Matildas will take on Spain on Sunday 19 February in Sydney.