Matildas ‘carrying Australian football’

Australian Matildas Media Opportunity
Former Matildas coach Ante Milicic is now in charge of China’s national women’s team. Picture: Mark Evans/Getty Images

Former Matildas coach Ante Milicic is proud of the role he played in guiding a women’s national team he believes is “carrying Australian football”.

Now in charge of China, Milicic will come up against his former team when the Matildas host the Steel Roses on Friday night at Adelaide Oval and on Monday at Sydney’s Accor Stadium.

And while he’s hoping to plot the downfall of the Australians, Milicic is thrilled with Matildas’ boom in popularity and the success they had in reaching the semi-finals of last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup on home soil.

“They’ve changed Australian football,” said Milicic who coached the Matildas for a 17-month period from February 2019 to July 2020

“They’re carrying Australian football in some ways on their shoulders, and I couldn’t be prouder with the direction they’ve taken.

“I’m so happy for the girls because they deserve to be in the situation that they are, the results that they’ve had, but also individually as players, the way that their careers have gone.”

Australia Matildas Media Opportunity & Training Session
China coach Ante Milicic and defender Wu Haiyan are ready for the Matildas on Friday night. Picture: Mark Brake/Getty Images

Milicic said that when he was Matildas coach, the players were in “comfort zone” in terms of their club careers.

“It was half a year in Australia, half a year in America, it was summer, it was speaking English, it was dominating those leagues, and I really felt that the team, as individuals, as players, they needed to make that step into Europe,” he said.

“If you look now … how many of those players are dominating (in Europe), and that puts them in a scenario where they can take that club form into the national team, and also at the same time the professionalism levels have gone up.”

The former Socceroos striker said it was a “privilege” for China to play against a Matildas team preparing for the Paris Olympics, which start in July.

Current Matildas boss Tony Gustavsson said “roughly 14 or 15” spots in Australia’s 18-player Olympics squad were “locked in”.
He said there remained a “question mark” over the fitness of key midfielder Katrina Gorry, who wasn’t selected in this squad due to an ankle injury.

“The other (three or four) spots are up for grabs and there’s a lot of players competing for them – that’s the tough part,” Gustavsson said.

“The worst part about being a head coach is having to tell someone at the end of the week that they’re not going to be part of the Olympics.

“We’ve had almost four years to prepare for this in terms of understanding the players you have. I’ve had this team for a long time now.

“The game (on Friday) is a massive step into preparation for the Olympics and not just from an individual selection standpoint but also for the team preparing.

“We don’t have that many games left to prepare for the Olympics.”