Matildas Set The Scene For First USWNT Clash

Impetus editor Ben Gilby heard from Australia coach Tony Gustavsson plus players Steph Catley, Emily Gielnik and Hayley Raso in the lead up to tomorrow’s first of two friendlies between the Matildas and world champions USA in New South Wales.

Above: The Matildas in training this week ahead of the first of two matches against the USA on Saturday. Photo supplied to Impetus by: Football Australia 26/11/21

With Australia facing two matches in four days against the reigning world champions the USA, head coach Tony Gustavsson emphasized in his pre-match press conference today that he wants to treat it as a real preparation for the 2023 World Cup – facing games back to back against top opposition in huge Australian stadia.

“When it comes to how to treat the game we’ve been very clear on we need to train the processes as staff and as players for a World Cup on home soil,” he said.  

“When we play at the stadium that’s going to be the final stadium for the World Cup, and we’ll play the number one ranked team in the world, we were very clear that when we approached this game it would be as a World Cup final with all the routines. 

“Whether that’s a press conference, whether it’s a pre-training meeting, whether it’s training content, we’re going to go in with a mindset that it’s all about winning this game and nothing else. It’s about preparing players physically and mentally in the best way for them individually.

Above: Matildas head coach Tony Gustavsson was as relaxed as ever at today’s press conference. Photo via: Football Australia

“We are going to try and put out a very strong line-up tomorrow, but I also want to be clear that it is not just about a starting line up here, it’s about the finishing line-up as well.”

Gustavsson admitted that he expects to field a range of different players across the two games against the USA stating that he needs to look at the roster in terms of preparation for January’s Asia Cup plus managing players who have played a lot of league games and Champions League ties along with spending many hours on planes going back and forth between Europe and Australia.

He then outlined the specific challenges that he has faced in the build-up to the first game tomorrow.

“Half of the players arrived late on Tuesday, or midnight on Wednesday so we lost a day of training and then without revealing too much, about 20-30% of the roster haven’t been able to train on Thursday and today, so we have some question marks and three players who are unavailable for selection for the game tomorrow.

“I must say though that the group showed a tremendous ability to adjust to change and circumstances that they can’t control. We can’t wait to get that game started tomorrow.”

One of Australia’s stand-out players over the past six months has been Mary Fowler. Gustavsson was full of praise for the teenager from Cairns.

Above: Tony Gustavsson highlights an opinion during today’s press conference. Photo via: Football Australia.

“She can play in a lot of different positions – out wide, coming inside as a wide forward, a linking 10, and even a nine. Mary is one of those players, similar to Tameka Yallop, she can be a multifunctional player for us because she has the right mindset for that. She has been training in three different spots this week for us. Looking to the World Cup, it would be good to find the right position for her, but I am not scared of moving Mary around as we saw against Brazil when we played her in three different places, she was still Mary Fowler!

“About Meeks (Tameka Yallop) – she is 100% loyal to the team. We had a team workshop last night and she was one of those that the players brought up as an example of always giving 100% and working hard. She puts aside her own interests and maybe her best position for the good of the team. She was all over the park in the Olympics and always did what is best for the team. Her professionalism is always 100%.”

After spending over five years as part of the USA’s coaching team, Gustavsson spoke about his feelings of meeting up with familiar faces once more.

“It is always good to see people again that you have worked with. Five years is a long time, we built up good relationships, but once that whistle goes it is all about beating them on home soil.”

With restrictions eased around Sydney at the present time, Gustavsson spoke about how he has been able to get out and about for the first time to experience Australia’s famous coffee culture and chatting to fans.

“The support we have is wonderful, but I also know from 20 years of experience of coaching that you are only as good as your last game, so if we lose tomorrow, I might not be so popular!

“I’m a passionate person, I’m never going to shy away from my feelings. I’m very passionate about working with this team. I love working with these players. What I will say about the support is that tomorrow, we will feed off of that energy from the stands. The way we want to play – high octane, high energy, is fed by the energy from the crowd. If we break the record for the biggest crowd, then we want people to say ‘I was there, I was part of that.’ It’s a big crossroad moment for the Matildas.”

Above: Steph Catley pictured in Australia’s last international game against Brazil in October. Photo: Getty Images.

Joining Tony Gustavsson at the press conference today was Arsenal star Steph Catley.

It’s been good,” said Catley on the team’s arrival back in Australia to face the world number one side.  

“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind and we’ve done a lot of travel.  For a lot of us that are playing over in Europe, it’s been a bit of a back and forth, but there’s nothing like coming home.”

Tomorrow will mark the third time this year the two teams have faced off after two encounters during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.  Catley spoke about the lessons learned from the two clashes in July and August.

“I think we had two pretty different games,” she said.

“The first one, we were pretty much in control.  We had a lot of the ball and created a lot of good chances. Then the second time around, they pressed us pretty high and we struggled to begin with to play out. Then we sort of started solving problems eventually.  I think that it just shows that they’re a really flexible team.”

Above: Steph Catley with Tony Gustavsson at today’s press conference. Photo via: Football Australia

With Alanna Kennedy out of the game tomorrow, Catley was asked how she feels about having a new face alongside her. “I’ve played with Alanna for many years now, but at this level, you have to be used to playing with different people. It’s exciting though, we have lots of really good youngsters and players who can step up. We’ve been practicing this in training all week.”

The USA has notably left a number of big-name players out of the squad for the games with Australia. However, Catley is under no illusions that the Matildas’ task remains fiendishly tough.

“They have so much depth in their team that the players who are coming over will be so hungry and excited to perform. You have to be wary when you face players out there like that as they will be wanting it. We still have to face Rose Lavelle and Cat Macario who plays for Lyon plus Lynn Williams. We’ve looked very carefully at their players in video analysis this week, so we’re ready.”

She concluded by highlighting the focus that Tony Gustavsson has about treating this as a World Cup game.

“He definitely has us ready for that. All the meetings this week have had a big picture of the trophy hanging up! A home World Cup Final on home soil in the stadium with it sold out would be a big game and as players, you want to be best prepared for that. This is the perfect preparation for us. There will be a big crowd and we will feed off that.”

Above: Australia and Aston Villa star Emily Gielnik speaking to the media in the build-up to Saturday’s friendly with the USA. Photo via: Football Australia.

A broken toe kept Aston Villa’s Emily Gielnik out of October’s internationals against Brazil and the forward couldn’t be more excited to be back home after a twelve-month absence. 

“It feels so damn good to be back in Australia,” said Gielnik. “I’ve been waiting for this moment for such a long time. I’m finally here and I’m buzzing.”

“The last time I was in Australia was probably almost over a year ago now, so I haven’t seen my family and missing my friends. I just missed home and it’s just so good to be back here. That’s the key word – ‘home’, and that’s just where I want to be and doing something I love in front of friends and family – it doesn’t get any better than that.”

Gielnik has been gradually making her return to football and on the weekend recorded 20 minutes with Aston Villa in the FA WSL.  After eight weeks on the sideline, the 29-year old was thrilled to be back on the pitch.   

“I’m finally back with the girls where I want to be, back in Australia, and I’m on the mend so things are looking promising.  I’m just honestly buzzing to be putting the football boots back on and be back on the green grass. So that’s all I really care about right now.

Since making her debut in 2012, Gielnik has gone on to represent Australia at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup and the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and is now on the verge of 50 appearances for the national team against the world number one team. 

Above: Emily Gielnik pictured in training this week. Photo supplied to Impetus by: Football Australia

The last time the two sides met was in the Bronze Medal match at the Tokyo Olympic Games with Gielnik scoring a stunning late goal.  Even with a revamped squad, the Villa star believes the Americans will be a strong test. 

“I think they’re just like a very physical, fast, attacking solid team,” Gielnik said. “I think that that kind of opposition brings out the best in us so we’re expecting big things from them, but they can be expecting just as much from us.”

Reflecting back on the games against Brazil in October, which the Melbourne-born star was forced to watch from the sofa, she said: “I thought they were some of the most exciting games that I’ve seen. I was one of those people screaming in front of the TV. It was such a quality game of football. I was definitely screaming!”

Gielnik also spoke about her move to England and what life is like at Aston Villa. “My move has been interesting. Two games in, I had a little incident and a broken toe that then kept me out for eight weeks and I only started training back with the team last week and here I am now in Sydney.

“It has not been the start I hoped for, but I’m enjoying it. Birmingham is a nice city and the team are great. I’m looking forward to getting back to full strength and getting to know everyone.”

Above: Hayley Raso speaks to the media this week ahead of Australia’s game with the USA on Saturday. Photo via: Football Australia.

Hayley Raso, another England-based Matilda also spoke to the media ahead of Saturday’s game.

“It feels amazing to be back in Australia, although I’m pretty jet-lagged, I’m not going to lie! I’ve missed a few camps through injury, so it is great to return.”

Raso also touched on how tough it has been both on and off the pitch since her move to Manchester City.

“It’s been hard, along with my shoulder injury we’ve had some harsh results on the field. Going into a new team and being injured is always hard, but the girls have rallied around me and we finished just before the international break with a good win (5-0 over Emily Gielnik’s Aston Villa), so hopefully, that gets the ball rolling for us now. Getting two goals and an assist (in the Villa game) was nice!

With City nearer the relegation positions in the FAWSL rather than the Champions League spots, the Queenslander was asked about pressure.

“I don’t really feel pressure in that respect. We know that there is pressure when you are fighting for Champions League or against relegation, but you have to leave that pressure behind and focus on playing and let the results fall the way they do.

“It’s just about sticking together and staying strong. There’s always background noise and people talking, but as long as we are sticking together off the field and on the pitch, I think that people can’t write us off yet. We’ve had some tough results and come off the back of losses, but there is still so much of the season to go. We’re gelling now and starting to get a few players who have been injured back, so hopefully, it’s all upward from here.”

Above: Hayley Raso (centre) training with the Matildas this week. Photo supplied to Impetus by: Football Australia.

The midfielder summed up what daily life is like for her in the FAWSL: “The standard and quality of training each day is at such a high level and that’s only going to help me. I feel honoured to be playing with such a talented group of girls and for me it’s about continuing to develop and seeing what I can add to the team.”

With the prospect of a record crowd for an Australian Women’s international in Sydney tomorrow, Raso emphasized how exciting the present period is for the team.

“It would be amazing. It shows just how much the women’s game has grown here in Australia and I hope that we can put on a great performance for the fans. Them getting behind us is amazing considering it’s been a while since we played here, besides the Brazil games.”

Concluding her time with the media, Raso looked back over the previous games with Brazil and ahead to the forthcoming matches with the USA.

“We put in a great performance against Brazil and I’m hoping we can do the same against the US. We’ve got a pretty good rivalry going with the US and it’s always a pretty tough game. We’ve beaten them a few times and they’ve also beaten us a few times. They are going to be really great games and I know that all the girls are up for it and we can’t wait.

“The US are obviously missing a few of their mainstay players, but the talent in the US is massive and whoever they bring in, whether that’s younger players or less experienced players, you can’t really disregard them. They are always going to turn up and put on a good show and they are a talented team.

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