Sam Kerr: We’re proud of ourselves but wanted the clean sheet

Impetus’ Ben Gilby reports on the media conferences held by Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson and Spain counterpart Jorge Vilda, plus The Matildas captain Sam Kerr (19/2/23).

Above: Australia captain Sam Kerr at the post-match media conference today. Image: Football Australia.

Matildas captain Sam Kerr spoke of the immense pride she had in the team defeating Spain in Parramatta today – but revealed how frustrated the team are for the concession of two second-half goals.

At the post-match media conference, Australia’s all-time leading goal scorer said: “We came out and started really well, but at the end of the day, this is a prep for the World Cup and we wanted to try different things.

“To get a result against this sort of team…they beat the USA, they tied with Sweden, so we’re really proud of ourselves and would have liked to have finished the game a bit stronger, but this is the time to prepare for the World Cup.

“We’re trying to plan like it’s the World Cup. The most important thing was to go out and win the game, but we wanted to try different players, different formations. We want to get into the mindset of winning trophies.

“I think it’s a good thing that we’ve copped two goals and given up a clean sheet and are disappointed against a big team. It’s the pride we have in ourselves. We were disappointed, but the girls are buzzing now. At the end of the day we won, it would have just been nicer to have done it without conceding.”

In terms of the key areas of the match that contributed to the victory, Kerr highlighted the way the team played on the flanks.

“We have a lot of good wide players. It’s probably our most stacked position, and that’s probably why they are playing so well as there’s so much competition. We have (Cortnee) Vine, Chids (Alex Chidiac), Charli (Grant) is flying, Ellie (Carpenter) is back. It’s an unbelievable position. Charli has really grown into her self and is a key player, and will be for us for many years. Vine scored a banger tonight…an absolute worldie. They work so hard, they’re good kids.”

Sam Kerr on the impact of The Matildas wide players.

There was much talk after the opening Cup of Nations win over Czechia about the rallying half-time speech that the Australian captain gave at half-time to spur the side on to an impressive second-half performance. Asked what she said, Kerr replied: “We spend four months apart and we get three days to prepare. Players come in and out of different formations and I just wanted to remind them of Matildas culture – grit – and you saw that. I didn’t need to say much today!”

The Chelsea hot-shot ended her media conference with praise for her attacking partner Caitlin Foord – whilst the pair have played for Australia for many years, they have gone to another level since moving to the WSL.

“I’ve played with Foordy for so long it’s almost telepathic now. We have such a good connection, we can work off each other, read the game and change things. We have a huge amount of respect for each other, we can change things and drive the team. She is in the form of her life.”

Above: Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson speaking to the media after the match in Parramatta. Image: Football Australia.

Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson was proud of the way his side stood up to the challenge thrown down by Spain – but admitted he felt the Matildas were lucky to build a 3-0 halftime lead.

“I’m going to be the boring coach and say I think it was unfair that we were 3-0 up. There was moments of brilliance in that half if you look at the way we defended. Our way of attacking with much more variation with so much more than you have seen previously. You see a transition game, you see a combination game, you see a crossing game, and once again we are brilliant on set plays. In that sense, I am very happy.

“We are a team that will score more than our opponents, and when you play a team like Spain it is freaking difficult to keep them away from the goal as they are so good on the ball. It was a team effort tonight. That is what I am most proud of.”

In terms of the most important lesson he felt his side learned from the match, Gustavsson said: “It’s an important reminder that we need to play until the last moment.

“When you concede it puts a little bit of a different emotion on it. It’s perfect for us to train this way. Against the best teams in the world, we need to be able to do everything. We showed tactical maturity. We attacked in one shape and defended in another. To be like that with only one video session and one training, it’s impressive. They are really able to nail down game management now.

“Being connected was the key to this today. Being connected in our defending, being connected as a team.”

Results like today are a long way from the struggles in 2021 and early 2022 when questions were being asked in some quarters about whether Gustavsson was the right man for the job as the Matildas struggled defensively in a succession of matches against the world’s top nations. The Australian national coach reflected on the period.

“Internal belief in this tough process has been there all this time, even in losses. But confidence will rise from this. As a coach, you are never better than your last game, so we are one loss from changing the perspective again, so we need to stick to what we believe in as a team.

Above: Tony Gustavsson speaks about the development journey his team have been on since 2021. Image: Football Australia.

“I don’t think I did a good enough job at the start about why we did what we did at the beginning. It doesn’t mean they need to agree on it, but it would help them understand it.”

“Look at the depth, and look at the options we have now and we would not have that if it wasn’t…(for those tough early days). Look at Charli Grant. If she hadn’t had those opportunities to play against top teams and make mistakes against top teams…(she wouldn’t be the player she is now), and the same with Courtney Nevin, it takes bravery. The depth we have now is what we need at the World Cup.

“Consistency and cohesion is the reason why you have seen this growth. We threw the big net out – 58 players, 17, 18 now debutants.”

Gustavsson also highlighted how his players have developed an ability to switch game plans in the midst of matches and thrive as a result.

“(The) Sweden game we played 4-2-3-1. They shredded us apart. During the game, we changed to 4-4-2, and hadn’t trained it. Seeing what they did in that game, it is all about getting the right players in the right spot in the right mindset. What you saw tonight was not my coaching, it was being able to put the right players in the right spot in the right mindset.”

The Matildas boss had words of praise for Mackenzie Arnold who, after a tough period in goal for the national team was superb tonight.

“I’m extremely happy for Macca. It’s so well deserved. She’s had a very tough situation, she played very good club football and she didn’t get caps. If you look at the Olympics, Teagan (Micah) had zero caps when I came on board, played one game against Sweden and was the starting goalkeeper for most of the tournament.”

“She has brought her club form into the national team. She had in the past, in her own words, not been able to bring her club form into the national camp, this camp she has. She has grown mentally and physically.”

Above: Spain head coach Jorge Vilda, with his translator post-match. Image: Football Australia.

Spain head coach Jorge Vilda recognised that his team suffered against the Matildas, who he labelled as “the best counter-attacking team in the world.”

“We saw very open play during the first half,” Vilda said, “We saw a lot of transitions and Australia damaged us. We had key chances and during the first half, Spain were good on the attack. We grew defensively, and we knew that if we scored we had a chance.”

He was full of praise for the quality of Australia’s play, believing today’s test will stand his side in good stead for the World Cup.”

“It was a very needed match and served us well. We had a first-class team to play against and one of the teams we could come up against in the final stages of the World Cup. We knew that The Matildas had the best counter-attack in the world. They are a team that have lots of (quality at) set-pieces.”

Admitting that a new set-up for his team partly contributed to Australia’s ability to break through regularly, Vilda believes it’s all about the longer term.

“We had the first time using this system of play and we know that there are a lot of things we need to adjust, but this is the structure that will provide us with a lot of good things (going forward).”

“We have learned what its like to play with jet lag and to play in a lot of heat – this is what we came for.”

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