If the experimental side that Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson picked against Canada was about assessing the depth in Australia's side, then the coach has some issues ahead of next year's Olympic Games in Paris. The Matildas - missing a host of their World Cup heroes either through injury or being benched - were handed a 5-0 thumping in Saturday's football friendly against a Canada side that exacted revenge for their 4-0 drubbing by Australia in the World Cup group stages.
Missing from the Aussie side this time in British Columbia were the injured Sam Kerr and Mackenzie Arnold, while Gustavsson chose to bench the likes of Mary Fowler, Katrina Gorry, Alanna Kennedy, Hayley Raso, Kyra Cooney-Cross and Emily van Egmond after selecting a new-look starting XI. Whatever the reasons were for the selection shock, it back-fired spectacularly for an inexperienced Aussie side that found itself 2-0 down in the first half.
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Having already progressed to the next stage of Olympic qualification with dominant wins over Chinese Tapei, Iran and the Philippines, the match was an opportunity to fine-tune some things for Gustavsson and his squad. However, in a first half devoid of any rhythm, the Matildas failed to muster a single shot as Nichelle Prince's brace put the home side 2-0 up at the break.
It didn't get much better in the second half with the introduction of Fowler finally coinciding with the Aussies' first shot on goal in the 74th minute. By that stage though, the Canadians were 5-0 up thanks to goals from Cloe Lacasse in the 49th minute, a strike from Simi Awujo six minutes later and the final goal from Adriana Leon in the 62nd minute to complete the rout.
Matildas experiment 'extraordinarily disappointing'
Veteran Aussie commentator Andy Harper was among those to slam Gustavsson's selection decisions during and after the match, claiming he had hung many of the inexperienced players out to dry. Harper labelled the scenes "extraordinarily disappointing" and questioned why the Matildas coach hadn't complemented some of the fresh faces with some more established Matildas stars.
“It begs the question when you go for an experiment, what exactly is the point of the experiment? Harper asked on Channel 10's commentary. “Very clearly a lot of the players in the first half have been completely exposed. Is that what he wanted out of this? Who is going to come through.
“And then you run the risk of someone who may be feels a little poorly after their 45 minutes and you drag them and you compound the problem. Somehow we’ve hung girls out to dry in the driving rain.
“I don’t know why we had to go down this path. It’s extraordinarily disappointing. I don’t understand why Clare Wheeler couldn’t play next to Kyra Cooney-Cross, or Sarah Hunter couldn’t play alongisde Katrina Gorry. It’s almost like cannon fodder. Use the two games to mix and match.”
Big agree with Harps. I really hope Tony G isn't going to make big judgments on individuals off the back of this. No chemistry, the weather, the surface - what chance do they have? This is partly why folks have been calling for more gradual rotation in tournaments.
— Vince Rugari (@VinceRugari) December 2, 2023
— CommBank Matildas (@TheMatildas) December 2, 2023
starting lineup should’ve been a mix and not a lineup of like 3 experienced players and like 8 who are more newbies #Matildas
— teresa (@augustfallin) December 2, 2023
Tony Gustavsson defends selections
Speaking after the 5-0 humbling against Canada, the Matildas coach defended his controversial team selection. Gustavsson indicated that the second friendly against the Canadians on Wednesday afternoon (AEDT) will feature his strongest possible line-up after a heaviest defeat for the Aussies since a 7-0 drubbing by Spain in June 2022.
Charlize Rule and Sarah Hunter debuted in Canada and were among six players with less than 20 caps for the national side. However, Gustavsson argued that there was enough experience alongside those fresh faces in the first half in the form of Claire Polkinghorne, Aivi Luik, Teagan Micah, Courtney Nevin and Clare Wheeler.
"We've had a lot of debate and discussion, I listened to my experts around me with my sports science and physios about load management on players," the Matildas coach said. "If you for example, have a player that only has one game, which game are we playing (with them)?
"If we mix, maybe we get more like two solid performances but also at the expense of maybe continuity in a potential starting line-up. Age-wise and number of caps maybe not so experienced, but there was still enough there to feel that we had a balance and a structure.
As well as lacking a distinct cutting edge in attack, the Matildas were also badly exposed at the back, where they conceded three of the five goals after being dispossessed in their own half. Despite the chastening nature of the defeat, Gustavsson was adamant his young players would be better off for the harsh baptism of fire to international football.
"A couple of the players said it straight after the game: 'this is exactly what we needed'," he said. "This is not about throwing the player under the bus because they got dispossessed in their own half in build-up against Canada away - that's on me, to ask them to do this and learn.
"We need to have a safe space in this environment where they can learn from mistakes. The biggest mistake we can do is stop trying and they really tried tonight and that's the best thing they can do."
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