Gustavsson & Raso: We believed in the process and stepped up

Impetus’ Ben Gilby reports on Australia’s post-match media conference following today’s 4-0 win over Czechia in Gosford (16/2/23).

Above: Hayley Raso and Tony Gustavsson speak to the media after the win over Czechia today. Image: Football Australia.

Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson and two-goal hero Hayley Raso both spoke of their pride in how the team overcame a below-par first-half performance to run out comfortable winners against Czechia today.

Gustavsson pinpointed the character in his side that allowed them to recognise what they needed to do at half-time, and knowing that whilst the game plan was right, the execution was not.

“It’s about how we respond to first halves like this. We saw what they (Czechia) did against top opposition before,” the Matildas boss said. “We looked for a team a bit like Ireland (who Australia face in the opening game of the World Cup), physical, well organised, and difficult to break down.

“We actually said at half time, ‘what if this was the opening game of the World Cup with 80,000 in the stands getting frustrated?’ Sam (Kerr) also spoke about that – ‘Don’t freak out, believe in the plan, execute it better.’ I think this game wasn’t about the preparation we had, it was about what we’ve done over the years. Clear structures and game changers. They did that brilliantly today.”

Asked about where he felt it went wrong for his side in the opening 45 minutes, Gustavsson said: “In the first half, there was no space, and we played too slow. We didn’t get that momentum going. You need to wear down a team and that shows patience and belief.

Above: Australia coach Tony Gustavsson was proud of his side’s second-half reaction. Image: Football Australia.

“We didn’t look up enough, everything was short into feet…it wasn’t fluid, the tempo wasn’t there. It took 45 minutes to get going. In the second half, we were much more direct, not just lumping it, but playing by purpose to break lines. I liked the variation – centrally and out wide. Much better combination play second half.”

Whilst Australia struggled to get going in the opening half, their European opponents had chances to make the Matildas pay, as Gustavsson recognised.

“We have to be humble, we could have been 1-0 down at half-time. How would we have responded if it was Ireland in the World Cup? We could have been sat here having a very different conversation. We responded brilliantly.”

In terms of the role that his captain Sam Kerr played in the second-half revival, starting with her speech at the break, the Matildas boss revealed how the Chelsea star goes about her job.

“Sam is an emotional player. She can be the passion and heart of the team when need be but she can also be composed and distant, clear in her instructions. She has definitely grown in that over the past two years.”

Gustavsson was full of praise for second-half debutant Clare Hunt. The Western Sydney Wanderers captain can most definitely expect further opportunities during the Cup of Nations.

“She has carried herself in a very mature way. I’m not sure I’ve seen this type of debutant in my two years here. It’s World Cup year, it’s 0-0 with the Czech Republic and she comes on at half-time in a team that struggled and she looked like she’s always played with us. For me, that’s massive.”

Tony Gustavsson, Australia head coach on Clare Hunt’s debut.

Australia’s head coach emphasised the impact that defender Clare Polkinghorne has on his side, as she became the most capped Matilda of all time today.

“I’m so proud to be a small part of her journey. She always has been and always will be a legend.”

Attention then focussed to Sunday’s second Cup of Nations clash against Spain. With a below strength Matildas going down 7-0 to the European giants last year, Gustavsson knows his team have to step up in all aspects of their performance.

“For Sunday’s game we need to be much better. If we give them that type of space when we lose the ball (that we did today), it’s going to be a completely different challenge. In terms of ball movement, Spain are a very different team, and we don’t have much time to prepare. It will be video preparation as we can’t prepare for it on the field due to fatigue.”

Above: Hayley Raso, two goal Matilda today. Photo: Adelaide Advertiser.

Two-goal Matildas attacker Hayley Raso spoke of how pleased she was at her side’s second-half revival, and how she recognises how much being at Manchester City has added to her game.

Reflecting on the game afterwards, Raso admitted: “We struggled a little bit in the first half, but came out in the second firing. It was really nice to get four goals and the clean sheet. We came in half-time and tried to focus on the positives, and we came out in the second half. We scored one goal and we didn’t stop there, and kept a clean sheet.”

Whilst the winger has not managed the amount of minutes in the WSL that she would like, Raso emphasised the importance of daily high-intensity training on her consistency.

“I’m in a really top club overseas and the training I get every day is such a high level so in that aspect I am sharp and in my game. It was nice to get 90 minutes and to get the goals.”

Raso had warm words for two of her team-mates, first for record-breaking captain Clare Polkinghorne. “Polks is the epitome of this team. She is incredible, an amazing leader. It’s very special for us to be part of this with her. It’s such a milestone.”

The Queenslander was equally proud of Clare Hunt, a player at a very different stage of her international career.

“I played with Clare Hunt at Canberra United so many years ago. I was like to her: ‘Are you ready?’ and she was, like ‘Yeh! I’m ready!’ “

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