Above: The Matildas gather after the final whistle in Pune yesterday which signalled their exit from the Asia Cup. Photo: Football Australia.
After their shocking exit from the AFC Asia Cup at the Quarter-Final stages, Kieran Yap considers whether it is time to evaluate what success at next year’s home World Cup would look like (31/1/22).
Tournament football is a funny thing. The Matildas played four games, scored 24 goals, conceded twice, and lost once. If that record was taken into the fifth round of a league campaign the club’s supporters would shrug it off.
Despite the end of a winning streak, they would be happy with that start to a season, the foundations of a good team are there, they just had an off day.
Obviously, the Asian Cup is different. There is no next week, it is a four-year wait until the next opportunity. The Matildas are out despite going in as favorites, an off day, or even a poor moment can have generational consequences.
The problems in this game were easy to spot. Poor finishing, an overreliance on Kerr, and a lapse in concentration at the back.
Nobody will be harder on themselves than manager Tony Gustavsson and Sam Kerr. The ever-heroic superstar had multiple chances to take the lead or draw level. While her shots were near-misses, Ji So Yun took her one clear opportunity and scored with a contender for goal of the tournament.
In the aftermath of this early exit, we should be careful in how we value The Matildas and anticipate the 2023 World Cup.
They are popular among fans for more than just their wins, and they represent many people from society in many ways. Their impact on football in this country and the sporting landscape has been their legacy so far.
People enjoy football in their own way. There will be many dissecting the games, the lineups, and the tactics because they love to, and others enjoy the game as entertainment, as an unpredictable, dramatic spectacle, and for the community among fans.
When the tournament starts, we will all benefit if we can enjoy it as a celebration.
But the 2023 World Cup should not be judged as a success or failure based on a Matildas win.
The World Cup is an event with the purpose of leaving a legacy beyond the actual matches. The aims of 50/50 participation and the hopes that the game can grow at all levels are high on the list of priorities, regardless of if Australia lifts the trophy.
The future of the women’s game in Australia cannot rest on the result of a penalty shootout.
The Matildas most impressive World Cup run in 2015 came on the back of hope, not expectation. Somewhere along the way, some supporters started to demand success instead of enjoying it.
An 18-0 win became a cause to look for problems, in the quest for perfection it was hard as fans to savor the victories and now only have shared misery and frustration to unite us.
In the shadow of a home World Cup, the initial elation of hosting has shifted to the realization that this is a good chance to win it, to frantically worrying that this is the ONLY chance to win it.
This is born of hype not reality and the thrill of having a FIFA World Cup in Australia is at risk of being smothered by the expectation on our team.
A look back at history shows that our chances were never really enhanced by being one of the home teams, let alone this being our “best ever” opportunity.
Since the women’s World Cup started, It has been won by the host just once, the USA in 1999. For the men, it has been 24 years since France lifted the trophy as the home side.
Brazil’s men’s side went into their home World Cup in 2014 with a similar build-up to Australia’s for 2023. The exuberance of hosting covered over the cracks in the national setup that were obvious to objective observers, a lack of depth, and an overreliance on Neymar (sound familiar?)
When they spectacularly imploded 7-0 in a semifinal it was surprising only by its scale.
Australia will not similarly implode in 2023, but there are cracks in the on-field setup. The coaching staff are clearly aware of them, that is why they have introduced so many players in the last year.
However, the football public needs to remember that we have no right to success. Statistically, being the home side actually gives us less chance of winning the World Cup.
This is not to say we need to adjust our hopes, or even re-evaluate the team’s potential. They can beat anybody on their day, and they will rightfully back themselves on game day.
But The Matildas will now go in as underdogs, it is a position they are more accustomed to and the pressure should be relieved slightly on and by us as a football public.
The notion that the tournament will be a disaster if they do not win it is wrong and has the potential to add pressure when they should be able to focus on one game at a time.
As a football community, we have the chance to enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime experience together. To support the Matildas, (hopefully) welcome fans from across the world, and watch many other brilliant teams. We should not lose sight of this
If we do, it may be a more costly missed opportunity than any of the chances that went begging against South Korea.