Gustavsson seeking Olympics answers for Matildas

The Matildas have used closed-doors matches this week in the United States to super-charge Olympics preparations, trying new formations and game plans.

Coach Tony Gustavsson has enjoyed the benefit of a long lead-in to a friendly match with Mexico on Wednesday (AEST), giving his squad new roles and instructions.

It’s secret squirrel stuff, and the first glimpse will come in San Antonio against the current world No.31.

“It was a massive opportunity for us to try different ways, different players, different tactics, different game management stuff in a closed door environment to not reveal too much,” Gustavsson said of the seven-day camp.

“Trying things we feel the need to improve come Olympics.

“Tomorrow will be a time – I don’t like the word experiments – but it will be a day when we’re going to try a lot of things.”

Part of Gustavsson’s experimentation comes due to player unavailability.

Emily Gielnik suffered a calf injury in camp, while Aivi Luik (hamstring), Katrina Gorry (ankle), Clare Hunt (foot), Courtney Nevin and Chloe Logarzo (both hip) were unable to travel due to recent issues.

Gustavsson said he was hopeful key names like Hunt, Luik, “playing maybe the best football of her career”, and Gorry, “our engine”, would be available for the Olympics, which begin in July.

And then there’s Sam Kerr, missing up to a year after the dreaded rupture of an anterior cruciate ligament, and under the cloud of a racially aggravated offence in the UK for allegedly calling a police officer something in the realms of “stupid white copper”.

Kerr held the incident close, not telling Football Australia or Gustavsson, who declined questions on the matter.

“Football Australia and myself are going to respect the fact that there’s an ongoing legal process,” he said.

“During that time, my focus is going to be 100 per cent on players that are available for selections.”

The Olympics selection challenge is heightened by the squad size of just 18 players, including two goalkeepers.

Just 16 outfielders must play seven matches in 17 days, should the Matildas reach the last four as they did at last year’s World Cup.

Unavailabilities at the back – including PSG’s Hunt – has prompted Gustavsson into a rethink, and on the table is a shift to a three-woman defence, or trying new faces.

Uncapped Sweden-based defender Winonah Heatley could be one of those, while A-League pair Sharn Freier and Jada Whyman could also win their first senior cap.

“We’re trying to play the best team available to beat Mexico, it’s also to get answers and we have to be brave enough to do that,” he said.

Gustavsson hailed Mexico as an organised opponent “very aggressive in pressing” that would challenge his side to find answers and quickly.

At the Olympics, the Kerr-less Matildas will be instead led by Steph Catley in a tough group including the US, Germany and an African nation.

Catley said unavailabilities weren’t an excuse either in Paris or against Mexico.

“Most of our players are either playing overseas in big teams in massive competitions, or doing really well in the A-League … looking great technically, understanding things really quickly tactically,” she said.

“I’ve never seen this team look so comfortable and confident on the ball, playing through lines and figuring out different presses in different ways as well as they have recently.

“That’s what excites me the most, the way we’re playing and the type of football we’re playing so I’m excited to keep building that.”

Australia’s final Olympics opponent will also be confirmed on Wednesday when Zambia and Morocco complete their two-legged qualifier, with Morocco taking 2-1 lead into their home tie in Rabat.


Ben McKay
(Australian Associated Press)


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