Matildas coach in telling call on Sam Kerr and co after World Cup criticism

Tony Gustavsson has hinted he won't rest players despite the Matildas already making it through to the next stage of Olympic qualifying.

Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson has hinted he will resist the temptation to rest players ahead of a dead-rubber clash. Image: Getty
Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson has hinted he will resist the temptation to rest players ahead of a dead-rubber clash. Image: Getty

Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson may have secured the Matildas passage to the next stage of Olympic qualifying but he has hinted that he will resist the temptation to rest players. Australia's 8-0 thumping of the Philippines on Sunday leaves the Matildas side having little to play for when they meet Taiwan on Wednesday night.

Gustavsson came under fire for his lack of squad rotation throughout the World Cup. The Matildas looked fatigued in their semi-final loss to England and especially so in their 2-0 defeat to Sweden in their World Cup third-place playoff.

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However, the Matildas coach said stats backed up continuity in squads despite frequently stating throughout his three years in charge it would take "23 in 23" — 23 players to succeed at the 2023 World Cup. Only 14 members of the Matildas squad played more than 30 minutes across their seven games at the tournament.

The Matildas coach fielded a second-string side in the side's 2-0 win over Iran in their Olympic qualifier before putting out what is regarded as Australia's best eleven against the Philippines. In the eight-goal rout, Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord both scored hat tricks, young gun Mary Fowler found the back of the net and Clare Wheeler also hit the scoresheet off the bench.

To qualify for the Olympics, Australia must now win a two-leg play-off against an Asian Confederation team. Gustavsson hinted that although he won't be looking at resting players, his new headache is the side has more than the starting eleven who deserve their name on the team sheet.

"The problem is that I have more than 10 starters now because there's more than 10 players that actually deserve to start," Gustavsson said. "So that's going to be the conversation. How are we going to start the game, how we're going to finish the games?"

Matildas. Image: Getty
Matildas. Image: Getty

Part of the reason the Matildas coach is choosing not to rest his players for the dead rubber match against Taiwon is that he wants his players to get used to recovering in short windows, to emulate the conditions of the Olympics. "I said it straight away in the circle that they should be extremely proud about the performance but also that they need to be extremely professional when it comes to recovery because this is also a rehearsal," Gustavsson said.

"If you want to go all the way to the Olympics, this is how tight the games will be in an Olympics. Only 48 hours to recover and then another game comes up. So we need to be extremely professional. Physical and mental recovery is key now and then I'm probably going to have some really in-depth and tough discussions with my tech staff about how we line up the team on Wednesday."

The only exception will be Cortnee Vine who picked up a suspected hamstring injury in the win over the Phillippines and is expected to be ruled out.

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While the Matildas Women's World Cup run was beyond expectations, it still emphasised the need to be able to play around rival teams instead of just looking for the long ball and playing central. Gustavsson said the way the Matildas continually broke through the Philippines' defence was proof that the improvements are being made.

"When I arrived here three years ago a lot of people said that this team can't play when they're favourites, they need to be underdogs to perform," Gustavsson said. And (they said) this team can't break down parked buses when there's no space behind the backline. We have spent a tremendous amount of time to try to develop that. We took some steps already in the World Cup."

"The stats prove that we are one of the best teams in the world already to break the last line by getting in behind the backline, but we have improvement to do to break the first and second line," he said.

"Stats also prove that we're really good at playing around teams and over teams, but playing through we need to get better. I'm extremely impressed by only (having) two training sessions and two video sessions that the players were able to play the way they did tonight."

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