‘We have to win this’: Matildas desperate for Asian Cup revenge as under-pressure coach makes shock call
After securing an all-time best fourth-place finish at the Tokyo Olympics last year, the Matildas are looking to start 2022 with a second Asian Cup crown when they open their campaign in Mumbai, India on Friday. evening.
And the Matildas know “we have to win this” to regain momentum as they prepare for the 2023 World Cup on home soil.
The Matildas won a maiden Asian title in 2010 – five years before the Socceroos matched the feat with a home win – but have since fallen in the competition’s final in 2014 and 2018.
Superstar full-back Ellie Carpenter said: “We haven’t won since 2010, the Asian Cup, and I think all the girls know we have to win. We know we can if we play our best football and bring what we brought during the Olympics to every game here.
“After our Olympic campaign, finishing fourth, I think there is a bit of expectation for us to win this Asian Cup. We should win this Asian Cup. That expectation is there and that’s good for us, we want to win tournaments, we want to win trophies, we want to put pressure on ourselves to be able to win that and save good performance after good performance.
“We want to take this trophy home.”
In 2014 and 2018, the Matildas fell at the last hurdle in heartbreaking 1-0 losses to Japan. Reaching the final again is practically a requirement for coach Tony Gustavsson, who has been tasked with guiding Australia’s golden generation to the all-important 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
Although Gustavsson led the Matildas to the brink of a first ever Olympic medal, losing 4-3 to heavyweight USA in the bronze medal game, his tenure so far has been marred by inconsistent results. and defensive weaknesses.
In 16 games in 2021, the Matildas have won three, drawn four and lost nine. The results saw Australia slip out of the world top 10 for the first time since 2014. Many of the Matildas’ clashes last year came against top opponents, while Swedish mastermind Gustavsson also experimented with lineups and formations – debuting at a record 13 players.
But Gustavsson has made it clear that the team is now in “tournament mode”, with experimentation and team development secondary to results. “It’s about trying to get results in this tournament and winning the tournament,” Gustavsson said.
To that end, he made the shocking decision to ask defensive-minded veteran Aivi Luik to backflip on her international retirement after the Tokyo Olympics. The 36-year-old has represented Australia 33 times, mostly as a defensive midfielder. But she has operated more frequently this season as a centre-back for Italian side Pomigliano, and Gustavsson could again choose to use her in a five-man defensive line as he did at times last year.
The return of Luik – one of six current Matildas who were part of the winning team in 2010 – is perhaps an indictment of Gustavsson’s experimentation, given that he chose to bring out a 36-year-old man from retirement rather than trusting the group of young people. introduced on the international scene in the last year.
Specifically, it reveals just how much pressure the Matildas boss is under.
“I appreciate [the pressure]. It’s a privilege to feel the pressure and I can’t wait to be there,” Gustavsson said.
“I’m a winner and I like to compete. I love tournament mode.
Conceding 37 goals in 16 games and holding clean sheets just twice in that span reveals a defense that lacked stability, was prone to costly mistakes and struggled with set pieces.
But Carpenter, 21, says the Matildas aren’t concerned about those defensive issues, promising the defense is “getting to work.”
“In the last two games we were testing a few new players along the baseline. We were testing things, bringing in new players, finding depth. I think this Asian Cup squad is one of our strongest yet,” she said.
“It’s a tournament now, so we’re ready, and one of our goals this tournament is to keep the sheets clean. We defenders know that. We get down to business in this tournament.
The Matildas flew to India today after a week-long training camp in Dubai where four young players battled it out for the final two spots on the 23-man tournament squad.
Another sign that Gustavsson will be looking for stability in his defensive structures during the tournament, the two players confirmed in today’s final squad were forwards, with two defenders absent.
Winonah Heatley, 20, and Karly Roestbakken, 21, were the two absentees, with Cortnee Vine (23) and Holly McNamara (18) called up to their first senior international squads.
Gustavsson said: “I think a lot of people probably thought we were going to pick one defender, one striker out of the four players, however, we felt that with the experience and the multi-functional players we had already selected for this tournament ., we have cover in defensive positions.
“We have instead decided to select the best players for this tournament who are in the best shape. Holly and Cortnee have shown us that this is the case right now and that they deserve to be selected.
At the other end of the experience spectrum, a trio of Arsenal stars are about to reach their century of international appearances. Fullback Steph Catley has 96 caps, goalkeeper Lydia Williams and striker Caitlin Foord 95 respectively. For Williams, it will be a record sixth Asian Cup, and the trio highlights the depth of experience in Matildas’ core group.
Last year, five Matildas reached the milestone of 100 selections. Three of them – captain Sam Kerr, Kyah Simon and Tameka Yallop – were part of the successful 2010 campaign alongside Williams.
This core of veterans has taken the Matildas to dizzying heights in recent years – from beating Team USA for the first time in 27 attempts in 2017, to rising to No. 4 in the world. Last year, Sydney and Newcastle had the best Olympic finish ever and record crowds.
For the golden generation, Friday night’s Asian Cup opener against Indonesia is the first step on the road to redress for two heartbreaking defeats in the final.
Victory would also vindicate Gustavsson’s methods and prove Australia are on course for next year’s World Cup – and the greatest chance for a golden generation to stun the world.
ASIAN CUP GROUP STAGES CALENDAR:
21/1: Australia v Indonesia
24/1 Australia v Philippines
28/1: Australia v Thailand
GuardiansMackenzie Arnold, Teagan Micah, Lydia Williams
Defenders: Ellie Carpenter, Steph Catley, Charlotte Grant, Alanna Kennedy, Aivi Luik, Courtney Nevin, Clare Polkinghorne.
Midfielders: Kyra Cooney-Cross, Emily van Egmond, Clare Wheeler, Tameka Yallop
Attackers: Caitlin Foord, Mary Fowler, Emily Gielnik, Sam Kerr, Holly McNamara*, Hayley Raso, Remy Siemsen, Kyah Simon, Cortnee Vine*
* Latest additions to the original 21-man squad.