Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson remains adamant his inexperienced players were not shaken by their Canadian smashing because he’s created a “safe space” for them to develop while revealing he’ll return to his best possible line-up for Wednesday’s second encounter.
Gustavsson came under fire for putting out a line-up that included six players with fewer than 20 caps against the Olympic champions last Saturday while also testing a new-game style that resulted in a 5-0 thrashing.
He was accused of sending the young players out as “cannon fodder” and also faced questions over his ongoing intentions, having been linked to the vacant men’s national coaching role in his homeland of Sweden.
Gustavsson is yet to fully commit to taking the Matildas to the Paris Olympics, which is when his contract expires, having only declared his sole focus is to qualify the World Cup semi-finalists.
The Matildas have only one final hurdle, home-and-away clashes with Uzbekistan early in 2024, to get over to get to the Games.
Speaking 24 hours out from his team’s final clash of 2023 in Vancouver, Gustavsson said he was comfortable he’d created that “safe space” for the young players to not fear failure and to want to test themselves against the best.
He also said the absence of key players, including captain Sam Kerr, and workload management for others amid hectic club schedules, demanded the pre-planned call to play young players in the opening match.
“They were extremely professional in this last game to go all in and try things,” Gustavsson said.
“It was a credit to the experienced players and my support staff to create a safe space for these young players to be out there and play.
“Some people probably go, ‘Hey, is this fair to the players to give them this type of experience?’
“They love it. This is what they want. They want to play against top teams. They want to learn. As long as I make sure I create a safe space for them to get this experience, it’s what they need.
“Then I wanted to balance that with the opportunity to have some continuity as well in a line-up because this might be the only camp before the Olympics when we can play a top-ranked nation. It’s difficult scheduling now with all the teams being locked in to schedules all the way up.
“I wanted to really try young players against a top team but also get some continuity and consistency.”
Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley, Ellie Carpenter and Clare Hunt didn’t feature in the first game against Canada, but they will, along with World Cup stars Mary Fowler, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Alanna Kennedy and Hayley Raso, likely start in Wednesday’s clash.
It will be their first chance to implement the new playing style that Foord said the Matildas needed in their “toolbox” for the Olympics, building from the back rather than their normal style of using speed to attack.
“We’ve struggled (in the past) a little bit to play through lines,” Gustavsson said.
“Which means come Olympics, we don’t want to be as predictable in our attack and I want to improve playing through.
“We might do some mistakes tomorrow as well, and maybe they’ll cost us a goal or two, but we’re in the process now where we really, really want to work on this to take the team to the next level.”