by Kieran Yap (13/8/22)
Above: Young Matildas head coach Leah Blayney, who believes her team are well prepared for the challenge of Brazil tomorrow. Photo: Ann Odong/Football Australia.
It was a great result after an impressive performance when Australia defeated Costa Rica 3-1. But for Young Matildas coach Leah Blayney, work began almost immediately for the next match in the Under 20’s World Cup.
“It was an extremely special occasion for us,” Blayney told the media on Saturday morning. “We definitely allowed the girls to enjoy the moment for a couple of hours after that. Everybody was pretty excited, but by the next morning we’re definitely turning our attention to Brazil”
Australia sit atop the group after the win, while Brazil and Spain fought out a nil-all draw the day before. Only two full days separate the games, it is a schedule some of these players are familiar with from the AFF championships, and the team are ready to play.
“The group’s pulled up really well,” continued the head coach. “We’ve had a good recovery day yesterday and back training today out at the stadium we’re going to play on tomorrow. Everyone’s just excited to get back out there and pull on that national team jersey.”
Australia versus Brazil is a familiar fixture for fans of Australian football. The meetings of these two matches have provided two of The Matildas’ most famous World Cup victories, while the regular meetings in international friendly matches are always compulsory viewing.
While there is the potential for another epic clash on Sunday morning, Blayney is not looking at the illustrious history at senior level.
“It’s very much about this Young Matildas team,” she said of the mindset in camp. “We’re aware of the players we have here and we’re aware of our opponent. We just look forward to stepping on that pitch and making sure we put on the best performance for Australia.”
“We know can play some good football. We’re fully aware of our opponent and what they bring to the table. It’s just a really exciting opportunity for our players to be on the world stage.
“Tactically we’ll look to hurt Brazil in areas that aren’t their strengths. In terms of our principles and being on the front foot and how we want to play in terms of dominating the game with the ball, you’ll definitely see that again by the Young Matildas.”
Australia scored three times against Costa Rica, but the second goal was one of the finest scored by an Australian team in a year that has included some stunners.
After winning possession, a series of one-touch passes and excellent off-the-ball movement resulted in a Bryleeh Henry finish. The forward started her run from deep and arrived right on time alongside Daniella Galic to give Australia the lead.
It had echoes of the way Australia’s Under 23’s played at their best in the AFF Championships and was similar to Mary Stanic Floody’s sealer in the Under 18’s Final.
Blayney was as pleased as the supporters with the way events played out.
“We definitely want to make sure that our passing is accurate and our one-touch football is in place in moments where we need to be playing fast. In terms of the second goal, I’m very very happy with the build-up and very happy with the positioning of the two players in the box to finish.”
For those of us watching, it was a team moving in perfect sync. For the the head coach, it was the result of plenty of work leading up to the tournament. Blayney took charge of the Young Matildas in 2019, but this was her first competitive game in charge in three years.
During COVID, she has faced circumstances different than she might have expected in preparing the next generation of Australian stars.
“It definitely was a different challenge to keep the group connected as well as motivated. We have some really talented young players coming through our system, and it’s easy to work with them. They were all engaged and each day they just want to become the best versions of themselves.”
Although the average age of the team is just 18.5 years old, there are players with significant experience either at A-League Women level or with the senior national team.
“They’ve been tremendous,” Blayney says of her senior players. “We have a range of personalities within that group that are a true reflection of this group as a whole. In the times they’ve had to stand up when things have been difficult, they’ve done that and they’ve led by example.
“In terms of the off-the-field stuff, they’re fantastic. They run their own team bonding… it’s just a really good strong group that’s led and driven by this leadership group.”
With two games left in the group, Australia has everything to play for, but this World Cup is about more than just results.
“We’re primarily focussing on the performance, and we’ve said that from day one in this tournament,” reiterates Blayney. “We want to showcase to Australia, what Australian young footballers are about. This opportunity to play against Brazil is another moment for us to go out there and show where we’re at and where we think we can take this team.”