Impetus’ Kieran Yap reflects on Australia’s dramatic victory over Great Britain, and how the Tony Gustavsson era is beginning to show new opportunities and new hope.
Above: The Australian squad come together after yesterday’s match with Great Britain. Photo: Getty Images.
In previous tournaments the biggest issue with The Matildas has been flexibility and depth.
In 2019 an injury to Clare Polkinghorne required a mass reshuffle. Steph Catley had to be moved to center back to cover and Elise Kellond-Knight shifted from midfield to left back.
Emily van Egmond dropped deeper but had to take on more defensive duties (this part was weird because Aivi Luik was right there) and although they survived the group there was a feeling left of what could have been.
The 2021 Matildas look to have solved these problems for the time being. The new defensive setup switches between a back three and a back four depending on the state of play, but crucially it allows for the use of one recognized central defender.
It allows Polkinghorne or Kennedy to be rested when the need it and the hectic Olympic schedule has definitely required it. The defensive security that having Carpenter shifting more central on occasion means that van Egmond, although playing deep, is not required to be a midfield destroyer.
She still breaks up play, but she is a contributor rather than being entirely relied upon.
Catley and Carpenter can still get forward and it is slightly sad that they are not as free-wheeling as they were against New Zealand but Carpenter’s role in snuffing out the threat of Megan Rapinoe and then Lauren Hemp went a long way to this run to the semi finals.
Hemp was still dangerous but not decisively so, Carpenter was again sensational in a mostly defensive role.
In midfield, the depth has also improved. Kyra Cooney-Cross has gone from U20 player, to starring with two W-League sides to become a genuine option in a Matildas midfield. She looks right at home and has allowed Chloe Logarzo to take her time in finding fitness.
The resurgence of the previously underused Tameka Yallop has given Australia another box to box midfielder. She can impact the game in both aspects of the sport and has reduced the impact of a Kellond-Knight sized absence.
Up front, Gustavsson has trusted Mary Fowler, not to train with the team, not to gain experience, but to impact the game.
She was impressive against Denmark in a friendly, dangerous against the U.S.A and delivered when it mattered most against Team GB.
Is Australia too reliant on Sam Kerr? Perhaps but it works for now and if Fowler keeps improving this will not be a question asked much longer.
Australia have improved in the last three months, they have made a semi final of a major tournament and unearthed new possibilities with player and tactics.
They have a chance at a medal but they have also built a chance at lasting success.