Impetus’ Kieran Yap analyses Australia’s two games against Brazil over the past five days and asserts that whilst it wasn’t perfect, there are some positive signs from Tony Gustavsson’s team. Photo: Football Australia.
Marta is one of the best players the world has seen. Brazil is consistently one of the world’s most dangerous teams.
Yes, The Matildas conceded a two-goal lead and had to settle for a draw after a ridiculously high-energy match. However it should not be forgotten that Brazil, try as they might with an excellent new coach and with all their pedigree and talent, still cannot beat Australia after five years of entertaining attempts.
They play with joy and their supporters turned both games into a celebration of their team and culture but Marta and co were not here to make friends.
This was one of the greatest individual talents, playing near her best to try and set right an odd wrinkle in Brazilian football.
And what a player she is. She has lost very little pace, obviously her vision remains and it is near impossible to take the ball off her when she’s not ready to pass it.
But what stood out in especially in the second game was her tenacity. She was here to win, to make a statement that Brazil can beat Australia, and to put on a show. That The Matildas can go toe-to-toe with a football giant time and time again and not lose since 2016 is a real feather in the caps of these players, even those receiving their very first.
Australia’s performance over the two games was something we have not seen from the team in the Gustavsson era. There was very little obvious defensive planning. Tameka Yallop tended to drop back when Australia lost the ball but Ellie Carpenter was allowed essentially a free role and Steph Catley was up and down the wing in the way she was for Melbourne City.
Perhaps to help regain the mojo of the team after a lackluster outing in Ireland or maybe purely to give the home crowd something to cheer, Gustavsson released any tactical shackles from the team.
He said in the early press conferences that there would be a lot of space and it would be a fast attacking game. Australia is a side perfectly capable of shutting down games when they need to. They restricted the usually free-scoring Sweden to a 1-0 win and the U.S.A to a 0-0 draw in Tokyo.
The fact that they made no effort to do so against Brazil had to be deliberate. Perhaps Gustavsson wants to prepare the players to execute this sort of match in case they find themselves in another shootout like the Bronze medal game. Maybe he wanted to let his players trade punches with Brazil knowing they were better.
Whatever his reasons, the two games were a joy to watch. Alanna Kennedy looked to have played her way back into form. One unfortunate slip aside, she put in her best performances since the Olympic Quarter Final.
Australia need a confident Alanna Kennedy. There is a reason she has played 101 games for Australia. She was calm and focused in the second match when faced repeatedly with Marta and Debinha.
Clare Wheeler and Kyra Cooney-Cross both showed they can be viable if very different options as deep midfielders. Some of Cooney-Cross’ long passes and ability to step into space were incredible to watch.
She looked slightly overwhelmed by the Brazil midfield in the second match but this is a 19-year-old who has trained most of her career as a striker or winger.
Her passing range, positional awareness, decision-making, and ball control made her a local star. She is clearly ready to step into the international spotlight based on her talent.
Wheeler was excellent in the final 45 minutes of the series. She adds grit to the midfield and can pick a pass. She is a more natural fit for the role, but her last season at Sydney FC aside, this is her specialty.
Australia are without Chloe Logarzo and Elise Kellond-Knight at least for the time being. Given the importance of those players, they need every opportunity to recover patiently.
Wheeler, Cooney-Cross, and also Fowler’s sudden dominance of midfield give them that and give Australia options.
On Fowler, all logic says to slow down the hype, let her grow without the pressure to star. Our brains tell us to calm down, but our eyes tell us something different.
She can dribble in tight areas, pass quickly off either foot, spread play from deep, or shoot from basically anywhere. She is an outstanding talent but Australia’s depth in attack means that she is not relied upon to carry the team, although she is allowed to if she’s in the mood.
One of the lesser heralded but potentially important players to emerge from the series is Charli Grant.
Anybody who watched Adelaide United play last season knows what she is capable of. But even her biggest fans would have been surprised by her slick turn and dribble in the first game.
After spending the Olympics and the two preceding friendly in the squad but with no game time she made her first appearance against Ireland.
Against Brazil, she looked completely at ease at this level, confident and brave with the ball at her feet.
Grant at her best can deputize for either Carpenter or Catley. If she continues to improve so do Australia’s fortunes.
The results weren’t perfect, the performances weren’t perfect but over the two games, confidence and swagger returned to The Matildas.
A lot was gained from the matches against Brazil and as an added bonus, Marta will have to come back at least one more time to try and beat us.