The Matildas keep showing the Socceroos how it’s done

Stuart Thomas Columnist

By Stuart Thomas, Stuart Thomas is a Roar Expert

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    Sam Kerr for the Matildas during the International friendly match against Thailand. (AAP Image/Tony McDonough)

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    I received a text message on Monday morning, right after my live blog of the thrilling draw between the Matildas and the USA.

    It was potentially the deciding match in the Tournament of Nations, an event that might just be here to stay if the quality of football and enthusiasm of the fans is anything to go by.

    The text was from my mother. It read as follows.

    “Wow, what a great game, unlucky at the end. Better than the blokes, what’s wrong with them?”

    Now to fully appreciate the context let me explain her football background and knowledge. She only knows Tim Cahill, has never seen me play a competitive match and prefers tennis. She is a widow now and, after playing the role of full-time carer for some time, is enjoying travel and hobbies more than ever.

    It appears watching early morning football matches has become one of those hobbies.

    Of course I could have responded and explained the difficulty in making comparisons between the men’s and women’s game. It would have been easy to talk about the relative competitive depths of the two or the benefit that the W-League has had on the development of our local female players.

    I didn’t, and attempting to do so may have proven a futile exercise. While I may have been enthusiastic in the conveyance of the information, I can’t help but think my mother’s eyes may have glazed over.

    Matildas Football 2017

    (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

    What the message did do was remind me again of the quality in the Matildas squad and what it is that they do so well. Their play, attitude and structures do in fact tell something of an educative story to any team hoping to topple the best of the best.

    After years of comprehensive losses to the USA, the team has improved to the point where the Americans are seriously threatened. The improvement was noticeable in the friendlies against Brazil in 2017 on home soil as well as during the Tournament of Nations one year ago.

    So what exactly is fuelling this meteoric rise to the top of world football and in turn sees our national team as a real threat at the World Cup in France next year?

    1. Sam Kerr
    Shortlisted for FIFA’s best female footballer of the year and a seriously good bet to win it, Kerr is a flat-out star. She is precisely what the Socceroos long for up front: a player capable of the astonishing on their own and one who opens up opportunities for the supporting cast, such is the attention they draw from defenders.

    Kerr is the sister of former West Coast Eagles AFL player Daniel Kerr and grew up with that code as her focus until around the age of 12, and as with many of the greats, they are found rather than developed. All Kerr needed was some fine-tuning and her raw athleticism and ability did the rest.

    Twenty-four national goals at senior level, 67 caps and a reputation as one of the best players of the current era is a remarkable list of achievements for a woman not yet 25.

    Australia's Sam Kerr

    (AP Photo/Gregory Bull)

    2. An assured defence
    Alan Stajcic has built a committed and assured wall in the Matildas defensive area that rarely produces diabolical errors or indecision. Alana Kennedy, Ellie Carpenter and co were tested against the USA on Monday and answered every challenge bar a 19th-minute corner.

    More than the scoreline, it is the way they defend that impresses; selfless, confident and decisive. The Socceroos have grappled with back three and four combinations over the last few years and, aside from Trent Sainsbury and Aziz Behich, are yet to find five or six ever-reliable men for the job. Josh Risdon is a work in progress, unlike the Australian women at the back, who are now polished international performers.

    3. Poise and magic on the ball
    Australia’s goal against the USA contained another clear example of just what makes this Matildas team so effective. When Lisa De Vanna turned her defender with dextrous skill, ran through the centre of midfield and slid a deftly weighted ball to Chloe Logarzo to score it reminded me of the excitement around Daniel Arzani.

    Supporters of the Socceroos had been licking their lips waiting for the Melbourne City wonder kid to make his debut, knowing that he brings a rare ability to run at defenders and maintain possession in the process. He is the epitome of possession with purpose. The Matildas have it in spades with De Vanna, Hayley Raso and Kerr blessed with a similar quality.

    The Matildas score a goal against Brazil at the Tournament of Nations

    (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

    4. Young stars
    The W-League keeps producing. It was interesting to hear the American commentator lauding the competition as potentially the best in the world. That is a debate for another day, yet the conveyor belt of talent coming through from the junior levels is considerable.

    Mixed with experience in the form of Tameka Butt, Lydia Williams, Claire Polkinghorne and De Vanna, the young stars just keep coming, and Stajcic has a tough task finding them regular game time.

    Kerr, Hayley Raso, Logarzo, Carpenter and the next wave threatening to emerge – see Mary Fowler – creates constant regeneration, and no doubt within 12 months there will be new names looming into selection contention.

    So, mum, yes – you are right, the girls are outperforming the boys right now and there are some pretty obvious reasons why.

    Who knows, depending on what happens at the World Cup next year, we may one day look back on the Matildas of today and label them a ‘golden generation’.

    Stuart Thomas
    Stuart Thomas

    Stuart Thomas is a sports writer and educator who made the jump from Roar Guru to Expert in 2017. An ex-trainee professional golfer, his sporting passions are broad with particular interests in football, AFL and rugby league. His love of sport is only matched by his passion for gardening and self-sustainability. Follow him on Twitter @stuartthomas72.

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    The Crowd Says (66)

    • Roar Rookie

      August 2nd 2018 @ 6:22am
      Stevo said | August 2nd 2018 @ 6:22am | ! Report

      The goal involving a slide rule pass by De Vanna to a running Logarzo who coolly keeps her head and scores was all class, something that we’re craving to see from the blokes.

      Last season, watching Arzani take on defenders and skin a few of them alive, was a highlight of mine when going down to AAMI. However it’s been reported that Daniel left SFC, because, and you have to pinch yourself Stuart, the brains trust up there thought that he was untrainable because he enjoyed dribbling and running at defenders. I guess they thought he wasn’t a team player. Joyce saw his potential but he too would always stress that Daniel had a lot of learning to do. My point. SFC were trying to turn him into a football robot which would have taken away the flair and the very characteristics you need to succeed at international level. Cruyff knew that you needed a range of players with different characteristics and would allow them to play with some freedom. We need less wrote and robotic style learning about football and more encouragement to express your natural personality.

    • August 2nd 2018 @ 6:30am
      Adam Willis said | August 2nd 2018 @ 6:30am | ! Report

      If you took out the 30 top nations from Europe, South America, and Africa that dont bother to field a team. Then I’m sure the Socceroos would be in the Top 8 too.
      The 2 sports are light years apart when it comes to depth of talent. Why even bother to compare.

      • August 2nd 2018 @ 9:48am
        Ian said | August 2nd 2018 @ 9:48am | ! Report

        Which 30 countries in the world that don’t field a team are you assured are better than the Matildas?

        • August 2nd 2018 @ 12:18pm
          Ad-O said | August 2nd 2018 @ 12:18pm | ! Report

          None. But you’ve misunderstood.

          There are at least 30 Nations that field a men’s team that are better than the Socceroos, but that don’t field a women’s team.

          I’ll illustrate my point by saying there is probably a healthy minority of those nations where women playing sport is banned, and the rest don’t have any professional or high level amateur league of any sort for women.

          So if there is a lesson that the Socceroos can learn from the Matildas, it’s to try to get 30 or so teams ranked above them to not field a team or have any professional players. That way they can also be 8th best out of about 15 teams that take the game seriously.

          The argument is specious.

          • August 2nd 2018 @ 12:25pm
            Nemesis said | August 2nd 2018 @ 12:25pm | ! Report

            Whilst I agree with your basic premise, I disagree with the assertion “’there is probably a healthy minority of nations where women playing sport is banned”.

            In particular, which nations that are ranked higher than AUS at the senior international Men’s football ban women from playing football, or do not field a Women’s National team to participate in FIFA Women’s tournaments at Senior Level?

            • August 2nd 2018 @ 2:52pm
              Ad-0 said | August 2nd 2018 @ 2:52pm | ! Report

              I’m pretty sure theyre banned from playing in Iran, definitely from watching and it’s sketchy in Egypt too. France bans Muslim players from wearing a hijab, and women were banned from playing in Brazil until ’79.
              I guess you are right ultimately, but the social barriers in place for most women in the world are ultimately a ban in all but name. I guess most countries are able to field a team but very few have professional athletes.

              • August 2nd 2018 @ 3:19pm
                Nemesis said | August 2nd 2018 @ 3:19pm | ! Report

                “’I’m pretty sure theyre banned from playing in Iran”

                Well, you’d be totally wrong.

                Right from Youth Level, Iran women are participating in international football.

                Pretty sure every FIFA member nation has to participate in every competition, or they get suspended.

                Senior:
                u20 World Cup 2019
                Iran finished 3rd in the Qualifying Group, so failed to Qualify for the next stage

                u20:
                2017 AFC u20 Women’s Championship
                Iran finished 2nd in their Qualification Group & failed to qualify for the Finals Tournament.

                u17
                2019 u17 Women’s World Cup
                Iran is in Group C for the Qualification process which will play in September

              • August 2nd 2018 @ 9:38pm
                Ad-0 said | August 2nd 2018 @ 9:38pm | ! Report

                Yeah right mate. I’m sure it’s just swell for women’s football in Iran. They’re banned from watching games but there must be zero impediment to playing at all. Aussie girls are just too awesome for them.

                https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/03/08/banned-watching-soccer-women-iran-are-being-failed-fifa

              • Roar Rookie

                August 2nd 2018 @ 10:25pm
                Ida Ioannou-Marsh said | August 2nd 2018 @ 10:25pm | ! Report

                It’s all well and good to think of football in terms of ranking, but – frankly – the Matildas are far more fun to watch right now than the Socceroos, and I think this is the point of Stuart’s article. They are really playing as a team with a vivacity and creativity that is so much more pleasurable to be a part of than the Socceroo’s frustrating stop-start style.

              • August 2nd 2018 @ 10:59pm
                Ad-0 said | August 2nd 2018 @ 10:59pm | ! Report

                You are probably right, but I find these arguments a big turn off and I’m not looking forward to all the regular BS tropes getting trotted out at the WC next year.
                The Socceroos aren’t as good as the Matildas. The skill level is higher in the women’s game. Women don’t get paid the same cos of sexism. And all the other half informed arguments that come with women’s sports these days.
                I’m sure these articles generate clicks but I just want to enjoy a game of football without the political agenda.

              • Roar Rookie

                August 3rd 2018 @ 9:23am
                Ida Ioannou-Marsh said | August 3rd 2018 @ 9:23am | ! Report

                Fair enough, and good luck. In my view sport is politics whether we like it or not and there’s a lot to say for respecting it as such, but that’s another discussion for another time!

          • August 3rd 2018 @ 10:59am
            Ian said | August 3rd 2018 @ 10:59am | ! Report

            Don’t think I have misunderstood at all.

            Adams comment insinuates if every single country that he has asserted is not fielding a women’s team would automatically be better than Australia if they did.
            There is no politics or sexism within my remarks boosting up women’s sport for the sake of it.
            You only have to look at how they play to know they are playing great football and have the right team environment happening. I’m basing my comments on what I see and what is happening. Not bringing up hypotheticals to show the Australian women’s team isn’t really that good.
            How what I said is superficial is ludicrous. Thanks for replying on behalf of someone else though.

            • August 3rd 2018 @ 3:32pm
              Ad-0 said | August 3rd 2018 @ 3:32pm | ! Report

              We are the same guy so I’m answering for myself.
              Probably saying they don’t field a team is not quite right. More like they don’t take the women’s game seriously, it’s not professional, women aren’t free to access the game in those countries, or it’s socially unacceptable for them to play.
              My comment is only to say that the women’s game has a long way to go before the depth of quality can compare to the men, and Australia is one of the lucky few countries where women are free to pursue what they like.

        • August 2nd 2018 @ 12:22pm
          Jack Russell said | August 2nd 2018 @ 12:22pm | ! Report

          It’s more about the status of women in each respective country than anything else.

          Unlikely you’re going to see womens teams from Africa or Eastern Europe challenge the best in the next decade for that reason.

          • August 2nd 2018 @ 3:53pm
            Nemesis said | August 2nd 2018 @ 3:53pm | ! Report

            No different to the Men’s competition. Nations in Africa & the poorer regions of Asia have not had sport as a priority.

            Cameroon women qualified for the Ro16 at the 2015 Women’s World Cup.

            • August 2nd 2018 @ 9:46pm
              Ad-0 said | August 2nd 2018 @ 9:46pm | ! Report

              No, totally different to men’s. Every African and Asian player in Russia 18 is a full time professional.

    • Roar Guru

      August 2nd 2018 @ 7:10am
      peeeko said | August 2nd 2018 @ 7:10am | ! Report

      It’s great that the Matilda’s are top quality but totally agree, making comparisons with the men is not easy

    • August 2nd 2018 @ 7:27am
      chris said | August 2nd 2018 @ 7:27am | ! Report

      Stuart thanks for the article. We do have some wonderful talent coming through and I see them in the NSWPL womens leagues.
      There really is no point in comparing mens and womens though, as they are 2 completely different animals.

    • August 2nd 2018 @ 8:02am
      Fadida said | August 2nd 2018 @ 8:02am | ! Report

      Watching a massive gap in the Brazil midfield for the Kerr goal shows the difficulty in comparing the men’s and women’s game. Athleticism has such a pronounced advantage for our women as there is far more space to exploit

    • August 2nd 2018 @ 8:05am
      reuster75 said | August 2nd 2018 @ 8:05am | ! Report

      great article Stuart except for the constant comparisons with the Socceroos. It’s very patronising to women athletes to use them as an example of what’s wrong with men’s sport. I know you didn’t mean the article to come across this way but that’s how it reads (imo anyway). Marina Hyde wrote a brilliant article related to this in the guardian last year that’s well worth the read https://www.theguardian.com/sport/blog/2017/jul/26/womens-sport-celebrate-world-cup-cricket-success-mens-sport.

      • Columnist

        August 2nd 2018 @ 10:02am
        Stuart Thomas said | August 2nd 2018 @ 10:02am | ! Report

        Pretty sure I made that point explicitly, let me check…….

        “Of course I could have responded and explained the difficulty in making comparisons between the men’s and women’s game. It would have been easy to talk about the relative competitive depths of the two or the benefit that the W-League has had on the development of our local female players.

        I didn’t, and attempting to do so may have proven a futile exercise.”

        You had me worried there for a minute.

        • August 2nd 2018 @ 2:10pm
          reuster75 said | August 2nd 2018 @ 2:10pm | ! Report

          Sorry Stuart my comment was referring to the sections of the article in which you list why the Matilda’s are being successful and then link that back to weakness in the Socceroos. That’s my fault for not expressing my point of view correctly. What I was trying to say was in my view that the article should have solely been about why the Matildas are great full stop and not mention the Socceroos at all.

          Some examples of what I am talking about are when you wrote about Sam Kerr “She is precisely what the Socceroos long for up front: a player capable of the astonishing on their own and one who opens up opportunities for the supporting cast, such is the attention they draw from defenders.”

          Or about the defence “The Socceroos have grappled with back three and four combinations over the last few years and, aside from Trent Sainsbury and Aziz Behich, are yet to find five or six ever-reliable men for the job. Josh Risdon is a work in progress, unlike the Australian women at the back, who are now polished international performers.”

          They are valid points you make about the differences but personally I just didn’t see the need to make them in an article about the Matildas is all, i’d rather just celebrate the Matildas for who they are. each to their own I guess 🙂

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