Matildas head coach Tony Gustavsson spoke to the media today ahead of Australia’s game with Brazil tomorrow. Impetus’ Ben Gilby was in the session for us. There is also news and photos from Jada Whyman’s call up to the squad after Teagan Micah’s withdrawal through injury
Above: Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson during the press conference. Photo: Ben Gilby
It was another enlightening twenty minutes with the Matildas head coach as he spoke in detail about his thoughts about depth in the squad, what he is looking for from his players tomorrow, and his future plans.
Gustavsson spoke again about how he enjoyed the atmosphere at the first game against Brazil on Saturday. “Even outside the stadium when the bus was driving in, we felt it! We felt those vibes! The girls were saying this morning that it felt like a tournament game, that tournament mode feeling. That is a real teaser and taste of what is coming in World Cup 2023 and everyone in that stadium helped to create an atmosphere of a real, amazing football game. I love that type of environment and I saw that the players did too. They thrived under it and played good football.”
Asked about Emily van Egmond and what she brought to the team upon coming onto the pitch, the Swede said: “It was impressive that she came on in that way because she has not been training at a club since the Olympics. She has been training hard, but as an individual and that is different.
“That was one of the reasons why she started on the bench. She had a good training week with us. Coming on in the second half she got that goal and the assist as well. It’s interesting as when we play 4-3-3 and put her higher up the park at eight/ten, she can float in that area in between the opponents’ midfield and backline and have those late runs into the box that we’ve seen her score from before. In the same stadium too – thinking about that late goal in the game against China!”
The Matildas head coach was then asked about the balance between needing to bring in new players to try them out ahead of the Asia Cup and home World Cup, and still keeping the more experienced players getting game time.
“This is a very important area from a leadership perspective to find that balance. As a national team, you have very limited time together both for training and games. If you look at the number of games and camps we have before the World Cup, it is very limited despite the time of it being far away.
“On one hand it is about getting the team to perform well with a cohesion between a small group of players that know how to play with each other and quickly get to speed with chemistry and cohesion. On the other hand, we know we need depth and to win something in a tournament you need depth and to be able to rotate throughout that tournament and cover with injuries and suspensions.
“We need to make sure that we bridge that gap and this year we have tried to do it so that we could perform at the Olympics but, at the same time bring a lot of new players in. Either by exposing them to this training environment or to get them on the park.
“I’m really appreciative of the leadership group of this team as they understand where we need to be. There has to be an acceptance from this established group of core players that they need the shirt for minutes, but also to buy into the fact that, hey, you know what, we have players with us for 2023 so let’s bring them on even if it costs me some minutes in the game. We need to do it together.
“In terms of depth, before the Olympics I said that I had to leave some very good players out of that roster who deserved to be in the Olympics. We have tons, and I mean tons of quality in attacking midfield and forward positions, but we have, and did have before I arrived, a lack of depth in defensive positions. If you look at caps and at players who might not be in the starting line-up and the bench and you compare our defenders with our attack and midfield, you see a lot of caps and tons of experience in those attacking players, but you see less experience in-depth on the defending side.
“When we have injuries (in defence) it means a lot of moving pieces, you see players moving back and forth from midfield and that lack of depth hurts in tournaments.
“If you look at the games from when I started in April to now, a lot of backline players have got exposure, both in a back four and a back three. If you look at those friendlies, there are very few games when I started with the same backline from one game to another. Again, I come back to balance – the balance between consistency and between getting new players. We are very aware of this. I have discussions with my staff all the time – do we play her? Do we start with her? We want to win the game, but not at the expense of the long-term development.”
Addressing the typically rumbustious nature of Saturday’s game, the Matildas head coach said:
“I’m glad that the game was physical because I was a bit worried after the game in Ireland where it felt like they wanted it more than us. Against Brazil, we showed up and showed what we are really about. Every game between Brazil and Australia has been a physical encounter and I think it will be tomorrow as well.
Looking ahead specifically to Tuesday’s second match with Brazil, the Swede said that “In terms of how the players have recovered from Saturday, I will know properly later today, but as of now it looks promising. We’ll take a look at training today and we always have a meeting the night before with our sports scientist and sports medicine team to look at every player from a risk versus reward and the amount of minutes that they can play. Some of the players are coming back from injuries in clubland, so we want to pay respect to the players’ long-term development. You will see a game tomorrow where there is a balance of consistency and some cohesion, but also that we vet some players.
“I do want to put the last game in perspective. Brazil rotated a lot of players in that first game. They are rebuilding. Were there some good things in our performance? Yes, but I also think there were some areas where we were vulnerable and got dispossessed in some bad areas and their transition game can really hurt us. We could have lost a couple more goals, and we’ve looked into that.
“I want to see a team now that steps on to the park to show that we can deliver a performance back to back and play with the same intensity, with the same energy, the same commitment and mind-set. Don’t shy away in those one v one duels. This is an important game to keep rebuilding and I want to see that mindset tomorrow. It’s really important.
“I expect both Marta and Debinha to start for Brazil. I hope they do, we need to make sure we get exposed to good quality players.”
Asked about the progress of Clare Wheeler within the squad, Gustavsson commented: “She didn’t get much game time, but the reason I brought her on was that I’ve been impressed with her in camp – both in Ireland and now. She’s taking steps every week when it comes to developing, especially with the tempo and intensity. She’s a very smart and technical player. She reads the game well and covers ground defensively well too. Her job now is to bring it up to international level when it comes to tempo and intensity and the more she is exposed to our environment, the better she can do that.”
In terms of specific developmental aspects that he is keen to see tomorrow, the Matildas head coach identified: “The final third. If you look at the passing stats, the amount of time we took our attack into the final third was really, really, really good in the last game. Really good, even compared to the best games in the Olympics. But when we got to the final third it felt like we rushed things. There are moments where we need to pick and choose when we play that final pass so that we can be a little bit more confident and establish more momentum and get more numbers into the goal zone.
“Then, the defensive transition. When we get dispossessed, how do we react to that. Brazil are going to target our centre backs and try to get in behind like they did in the last game and we need to have good positioning when we get dispossessed and a good initial reaction so we can stop that transition before it even happens. If it happens, then how do we deal with those balls in behind. Brazil have some real good pace and some real good deliveries to get in behind. We want to avoid that as much as possible.”
Gustavsson then discussed his future plans. “I want to be here in Australia and get exposure to local football. I want to meet the club coaches and the players but also all the Football Australia staff. I haven’t even been in the office yet. I can’t wait to stay here. Right now, after this camp I am going to scout some key club games and Champions League games ahead of the camp in November and after that I will stay here to meet as many people as I can. By that time the A-League Women will be up and running as well.”
Whyman Receives Call Up
Sydney FC goalkeeper Jada Whyman has been called up as an injury replacement for Teagan Micah after the FC Rosengård goalkeeper suffered an injury in the pre-match warm-up on Saturday and will be out for the second match against Brazil tomorrow.
After completing the protocols in accordance with the Quarantine Management Plan, Whyman entered the assembly. No stranger to the Matildas, the 22-year-old has previously earned call-ups with the senior national team and has represented Australia at U20 and U17 levels.