Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson has hit back at the criticism that his rotation of players had impacted the team's performance against England after the semi-final loss. Gustavsson has helped the Matildas reach their first ever World Cup semi-final after a rocky start in the group stages.
However, Australia competed with England in the semi-final until a few defensive lapses saw the old enemy take advantage and book their place in the final. And since the loss, Gustavsson has been forced to slap down suggestions he may have mismanaged the squad's rotation in the tournament.
The Matildas have handed the least amount of minutes to substitutes throughout this tournament. Gustavsson has relied on a core group of players to reach the semi-final. Sam Kerr's calf injury in the lead-up to the tournament didn't help, while Alanna Kennedy missed the semi-final due to concussion.
And while there were suggestions the Matildas looked fatigued towards the end of their 3-1 loss, Gustavsson has hit back at the criticism and said it was always going to be the strategy leading into the home World Cup.
“We have had a clear strategy and I know there are opinions in this room about that, which I think is fair because I like those types of debates — whether you should rotate players in a tournament, whether you should have continuity in the line-up,” he said in response to the criticism.
“I think you saw in the [last] Olympics and I think you’ve seen now we have gone with a strategy that we think relationship and continuity in tournaments is key. It’s a strategy that we believe in but player availability will be key in that sense — how much do they have in their tank physically [and] who starts. The base and core of it will be what we think is best to win the game.”
Despite the criticism, Gustavsson was adamant the Matildas would give it their all in a bid to do the nation proud in the third placed play-off game against Sweden. And he reiterated the Matildas would put forward the best possible line-up against Sweden.
“I can’t pick (a team) based on emotions,” Gustavsson added. “This is a third-placed game – we’re playing for a medal. I’m going to make sure we have a line-up that is the strongest line-up we can have, but also the strongest finishing line-up.
“I’m going to plan what I think is best for the team in this one game, and not look at it as a bigger picture than that. It’s not about giving players experience just for the sake of giving experience. This is a game to win. We have gone with a strategy where we think relationships and continuity in tournaments is key. It’s just a strategy we believe in.”
Matildas selection drama ahead of Sweden clash
On Saturday, it was confirmed Alanna Kennedy would not feature in the playoff game for third having sustained a concussion against France. Many are unsure if Kerr will start against Sweden having played 90 minutes against England.
Kerr could start off the bench, once again, considering she only just returned to the starting line-up from her calf injury on Wednesday. Regardless, ahead of the game, Kerr doubled down on the coach's message and said the team was ready for one final push. “We want to win the bronze medal,” the forward said.
“To bring a World Cup medal would be amazing. It really feels like we have brought the nation together over football. It feels like we’ve done something amazing for the country … but there is definitely work still to be done.”
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