Gustavsson And Grant Reflect And Look Ahead

Ahead of tonight’s friendly in Portugal, Impetus’ Ben Gilby heard from Australia’s head coach Tony Gustavsson and Charli Grant who put in an impressive performance in difficult circumstances against Spain on Saturday (28/6/22).

Above: Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson facing the media today. Photo: Football Australia.

“It Surprises Me That People Are Surprised”: Gustavsson On Reaction To Spain Loss.

Listening to today’s pre-game media conference with Tony Gustavsson ahead of the game with Portugal, two key elements came to the fore.

Frustration, and a desire to re-set people’s mindsets.

Frustration that he was not able to field the sort of team he originally wanted to against Spain. Frustration that people haven’t quite understood the reality of the situation he and his players faced. There was also a desire in his words for those around the women’s game in Australia to focus on developing a stronger platform or pathway for players to come through who are more prepared for the increasing challenges of international football.

“It has surprised me that people are surprised (by the result against Spain). If you follow the women’s game, see where Spain are, and what they have done, if you look at their scorelines against Scotland (8-0) and you look at the team that we brought to play them, it surprises me that people are surprised. That’s where we are, and we need to be OK to see the truth here, and keep investing, keep believing, and want to improve.

“I as a coach always want the best team available when we play the best teams. When we realised what would happen for this match, I had to decide whether I say as a coach ‘no, we have to have everyone available regardless’, or I look at the longer-term issues. So then you change perspective for the camp. You think about how we can get benefits from it.

“It’s about looking at the depth of the roster in terms of where we are now, and then look at the players and get them the experience (so they) know what it’s like and what it takes to be ready for this level when you are next called in. Whether that means an individual training program, a more challenging environment to play in, or looking for more games for the players over a 12-month period…remember The Gap Report stated our players are not playing enough games over a year.”

Above: Katrina Gorry – one of the positives in the defeat to Spain – and an example of a player who has moved overseas to get more games at a consistently higher level. Photo supplied to Impetus by: Football Australia.

Gustavsson reiterated his argument first raised in his post-match media conference that the second half, where the Matildas conceded six goals, saw him field a team containing “four players playing NPL and another playing college football”. Whilst at the present time this is factually correct, it is disingenuous, and easy meat for Gustavsson’s critics to pounce on.

Those playing NPL in the Matildas squad right now are all players with extensive A-League Women experience. The college footballer, Amy Sayer, has played 21 matches at W-League/A-League Women level. They are not just players he has plucked from state football and put straight from there into international football.

Gustavsson went on to be brutally honest by saying that as a result of playing a second half with these players, “You know you are going to lose, and it is a question of how many goals. It tells us where we are right now with those players and the pathway we have. We need to keep investing in these players to give them the best chance of going from clubland to international football. At the moment, that jump is too big for them.”

Effectively, the argument that A-League Women players should be more actively looking to play in strong competitions outside of the top domestic league calendar is a good one, but it has got slightly lost in the way Gustavsson chose to raise it.

The head coach then looked to raise the spectre of a necessary change in thinking about the way the whole Australian women’s football system needs to change to prepare players for top-level action.

“A senior national team should not be looking at developing players. It should be looking at the tip of the iceberg and everything else that happens in clubland and other areas of development pathways should be about making them ready for international football. That is where we need to invest and develop.

Above: Tony Gustavsson admitted he is being scrutinised and being held accountable, but also highlighted the longer-term issues in the women’s game in Australia that this camp has raised. Photo: Football Australia.

“When it comes to reputation, all I can say is that my name as a coach will be scrutinised. Sometimes, a reality check even if it hurts, can be healthy for the long term. Short term it really hurts – for players, the media, fans, coaches, and staff, but in the long run, maybe it is what we need.

“I will never stop believing in this team, but we need to be fair on what we can expect and at what time we can expect it.”

Gustavsson also recognised that he is in the firing line and emphasised that he is held accountable after every national camp.

“After each camp, we review internally. We need to think about what we learned rather than what went wrong. What went wrong is saying we failed and should have done something better, but we always discuss what we learned.”

Moving on to the next challenge, Portugal tonight local time, Gustavsson was clear that there is a lot of work to be done.

“Portugal play in a very different way to Spain, and so our preparations have involved more individual meetings with players on top of a training session. It’s all about getting the players mentally ready as well as physically ready.

Above: The Matildas training in Portugal this week. Photo supplied to Impetus by: Football Australia.

“We have tried to look at past experience against them. We went back to 2018 in the Algarve Cup when we played them twice – a draw and a loss. We had a much more experienced team then. We have to be humble enough to realise that this will be a tough match too.

“They are peaking for the Euros, and we might see a different formation from us and tactical flexibility.”

The Australia head coach closed by addressing the challenge of filling an Ellie Carpenter-shaped hole in his squad over the coming months.

“Ellie is so professional and mature for her age. We will support her and Lyon with everything we can in her rehab. We need to look for replacements, but it’s not (about) looking for another Ellie.

“We are looking for another outside back or wing-back. We have a few options, play a back three and have wingbacks, or we look at natural replacements like Charlotte Grant. We’ve looked at Cortnee Vine. We can take attacking midfielders back into the position too. We’ll look at one, maybe two options tomorrow.”

Charli Grant: Stepping Up The Levels Of Intensity And Staying Positive

Above: Australia and Rosengård defender Charli Grant speaking earlier today. Photo: Football Australia.

For Charli Grant, opportunities to start for The Matildas have been few and far between. One such opportunity came on Saturday against Spain, and despite the intense pressure, the 20-year-old South Australian put in a great shift.

Reflecting on the experience, Grant said: “It was definitely a tough one. We knew they were one of the favourites for the Euros and it was a great chance for us to play against one of the world’s best teams. We learned a lot from it.

“They are such a high-tempo team and it taught us to make the most of every moment we had on the ball and then be focused when they are on it as you just never know what they are going to do with it. They are so technical and strategic.”

The former Adelaide United star outlined some of the factors behind her strong performance. “As a young defender, I just want to make the most of every opportunity. I had to stay so focused. I had to focus on one thing at a time – each individual thing as it happened. One tackle at a time, one pass at a time. It will definitely help me going into future games.

“It helped me massively being exposed to that sort of game. Going forward as a result, we’re only going to get better from here. We trust the process that Tony has put in for us. I know how much I have improved since I first came into the Matildas last year and my level will only go up going towards the World Cup.”

“I have technically improved and my composure on the ball has improved as well. Being around the girls in the squad has taught me to be a better defender.

“For me, coming from Adelaide United to Rosengård was definitely a step up in terms of (a more) technical (game) and a fast pace. Then going into the national team, that (move to Sweden) definitely helped me to transition. Yet playing against Spain is a whole new level! I was excited to be exposed to it, but it was definitely something that needed to be adjusted to.”

Whilst some may expect young players such as Grant to be adversely impacted confidence-wise after such a heavy loss, the defender feels otherwise. “The result was disappointing, but we can only look at what we can improve from it and put all our focus onto the Portugal game and put things right there.”

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