Above: It’s time for the Matildas to come together and deliver at the Asia Cup which starts today. Photo: Football Australia.
Kieran Yap previews Australia’s Asia Cup campaign which kicks off against Indonesia tomorrow (20/1/22).
As fans, it is a little bit different before an international tournament. There are nerves, excitement and a slight change in perspective, but there is much to be excited about as the Asian Cup kicks off.
When it comes to the national team, club allegiances give way to the common cause. A loss for our ‘Dub’ team can be tempered by the excellence of a national team prospect.
For Victory fans, it was not fun watching Holly McNamara dismantle their defence in a 5-1 win. But in the context of 2022, imagine if she did that to Indonesia or even Japan.
Nobody likes watching their team be beaten by Sydney FC. They have swept aside all opposition in the first seven rounds, only being temporarily paused by Western Sydney Wanderers in a 0-0 draw.
But we do like watching Cortnee Vine in career-best form and Remy Siemsen scoring regularly. The two Sydney attackers have been in irrepressible form so far and have been rewarded with call-ups to the final squad for India.
This feels weird to say as a Victorian and I needed to take a deep breath before typing this but on the eve of a major Matildas tournament… I am glad that Sydney FC has played so well.
Australia was undone in the 2018 tournament by committed and organized defences. Thailand proved difficult to break down in the semi-final and Japan shut down hopes of regaining the title.
The likes of Vine and McNamara have the skill to unlock packed defences, they are both fast, tricky, and unpredictable. You can research what Vine does, but that has not helped any A-League Women defenders stopping what happens when she has the ball.
It is not just the new faces, the build-up to this tournament feels like a risky yet deliberate plan by the new manager. Even in poor team performances in exhibition matches, something useful has been learned each time.
Tony Gustavsson has prepared for the 2022 Asian Cup very differently than any other Australia coach before him.
He has sought out the most difficult opposition to play in warm-up matches. The score-lines have been far from perfect, but they have yielded some good long-term results.
Courtney Nevin was uncovered as a senior international footballer. Over the course of the post-Olympic friendlies, she justified Gustavsson’s faith in her. Her performance in central defence against the USA could be a pivotal moment in her career and Australia’s fortunes.
Kyra Cooney-Cross was revealed to be adept as a deep-lying or defensive midfielder. Her command of the role against Ireland and in the first game against Brazil unlocked new midfield possibilities.
Clare Wheeler immediately impacted any game she was brought into to. Against each opposition, in very different circumstances, she flourished.
Charli Grant was impressive against Brazil, showing some excellent footwork in tight spaces. Against the USA she displayed her trademark explosive pace to race past the defenders and cross perfectly for Sam Kerr.
Grant has the potential to be another option at right-back or left-back. Gustavsson has shown a willingness to use Ellie Carpenter more defensively and when the Lyon defender was missing in the Bronze medal match in Tokyo, it showed.
Grant’s rapid improvement in the post-Olympic friendly matches gives Australia more possibilities and depth in that position.
The loss to Ireland and the 3-0 defeat to the USA were hard to watch. But as the Asian Cup squad is announced, it is clear that they were not a waste.
The Asian Cup has been a strange tournament for Aussie fans. The fact that it doubles as a World Cup qualifier has often meant that success is judged on two separate criteria and there literally were prizes for finishing second.
This time, they go to India with one goal in mind, to win the trophy.
The Matildas have come close repeatedly in the history of this cup, but things feel different this time.
The expectations are more defined, the preparation has been more rigorous and the squad feels more flexible and versatile.
It is easy to be nervous before a major tournament. Anything can happen and we have no right to success, but Aussie fans should be optimistic.
The team has had rigorous preparation, has players at some of Europe’s biggest clubs, a World Cup-winning manager, and the best players from the A-League Women.
They have a manager who revels in tournament football and working out the permutations of each match. He has chosen young players who are breaking through and experienced campaigners playing at their peak.
The Matildas have options at left-back and right-back for the first time in years and Caitlin Foord, who missed the 2018 cup is back and playing at a higher level than ever.
Oh, we also have the top striker in the world.
The Matildas kick off on Friday night. Until that first goal goes in, it will be stressful and if a game goes to penalties, it may be unbearable on our health, but Australia goes into this tournament in a strong position to win it.
All we can do as fans now is enjoy the ride.