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Opinion

Stirring win shouldn’t hide the Matildas' glaring weaknesses

Sam Kerr scores against Sweden (Photo by getty Images)
Roar Guru
31st July, 2021
8

Friday’s win by Australia over Great Britain is being hailed as one of the Matildas’ greatest ever wins.

That is a matter of opinion but it’s hard to argue considering we came from behind, our superstar scored a double, a teenager hit a cracker and our young goalkeeper had a stellar game.

We also went further at the Olympics than any other Matilda team has, earning a double chance at a medal.

But coach Tony Gustavsson will get back to work today to make a few necessary tweaks before we tackle Sweden on Monday night. The Swedes beat us 4-2 last Saturday and are in red-hot form.

The reality is our goalkeeper was the star of the show, which is always a concern. Great Britain had 21 shots to 14 and if it wasn’t for Teagan Micah, they would have won comfortably in normal time.

Teagan Micah

(Photo by David Lidstrom/Getty Images)

Defensive errors are a concern. All three goals we conceded to Ellen White were a result of poor defensive decisions.

The first goal saw White head home between the tall Alanna Kennedy and the speedy Ellie Carpenter. When you have two players marking a key attacking opponent, they need to communicate and at the very least be able to stop her from jumping. The separation between Kennedy and Carpenter from White shows the Matildas are still vulnerable to loose marking.

While Gustavsson has been excellent at blocking passing lanes and clogging up the middle of the park, poor marking is costing the Matildas. A team like Sweden will capitalise on this.

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The third goal was also a major concern. With five minutes left and leading 4-2 with an extra defender (Clare Polkinghorne) brought on to specifically park the bus, how White was able to get such time to nod home a simple header is most concerning. What is worse was the nearest player to her was another British player.

Considering the situation there should have been no British player given any room to move let alone jump.

White’s second goal saw veteran Ivy Luik hesitate and throw her foot at the ball, with Kennedy inexplicably playing the ball back towards the penalty area, with the ball rebounding off Luik and falling to White, who smashed it home. It was a glaring error and showed a lack of communication and perhaps some expert defending.

Luik is probably our most technically gifted player. Kennedy is a star in defence usually. The error probably showed Luik is not the right option down back.

(Photo by Getty Images)

Polkinghorne was a substitute on Friday night and would be the obvious replacement for Luik, but she herself has slowed down and probably doesn’t have the pace to stop opponents who will attack us down the flanks now that Gustavsson has blocked the middle.

Carpenter’s speed has been a blessing down back but she can’t catch them all. Laura Brock, Courtney Nevin and Charlotte Grant are other options down back.

Brock hasn’t played a lot recently, and has struggled with injury. She missed out on the Olympic qualifiers last year and was injured for the 2019 World Cup. She has experience though with 63 international caps.

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Nevin isn’t quick but can run all day. Her ability to read the play and her stamina makes up for her lack of pace. She also had an injury-interrupted W-League season for the Wanderers but appears to have recovered well.

She can play left back and provides a dangerous option in attack with her brilliant left foot capable of producing chaos balls into the middle for the likes of Sam Kerr, Kyah Simon and Mary Fowler to pounce on.

Grant is a player of the future. She had a stellar season with Adelaide United. She signed with Rosengård in Sweden and will undoubtedly have her time during the 2023 World Cup.

It may be a risk to play Nevin or Grant in an Olympic semi-final ahead of the likes of Brock and Polkinghorne, but Gustavsson has shown he isn’t afraid to make such calls.

The other option is for Gustavsson to use a 4-4-2 system, which he deployed against the USA. We only conceded eight shots against Megan Rapinoe and co. This may involve using Polkinghorne in a central role.

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It will be interesting to see what he does. Conceding 21 shots against the Swedes (we conceded nine against them last Saturday) would not lead to a favourable result like Friday night.

Up front, the Matildas netted four goals on Friday night from 14 shots but again two of them came from superstar Kerr. While she is doing what she is expected to do, we do need more avenues to goal.

(Photo by Getty Images)

Fowler showed what she is capable of with some brilliant innovation. It had a bit of luck about it but that is the reward for being creative.

Kyah Simon has had a decent tournament and has been involved in setting up goals. Emily Gielnik looked out of touch on Friday night and hasn’t had a lot of minutes during the tournament.

Hayley Raso was industrious as always on Friday night and her ability to fight is vital in big games. However she has only had one shot in three games.

It will be interesting if Gustavsson rides on the high of Friday night and pairs Fowler with Kerr and throws a relatively new and unknown combination at Sweden.

Monday night will be a true test of the Matildas’ credentials. A win would guarantee a first Olympic medal for Australia in football. The stakes will be high.

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Tough decisions will need to be made. But Gustavsson isn’t afraid of that.

Kick-off is 9pm Monday AEST with live coverage on Channel Seven and 7Plus.

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