While short-term pain for long-term gain is the philosophy Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson is adopting, some Australian fans are not prepared to wait.
It wasn’t to be. A first Olympic medal in football has proven to be just out of reach for the Matildas after they went down 4-3 to the USA.
Sam Kerr, Caitlin Foord, and Emily Gielnik’s goals came up just short against doubles to Megan Rapinoe and Carli Lloyd.
For the United States, it is a first-ever bronze to add to their collection of four golds and a silver. The reigning world champions finally put together a performance that looked more like the US Women’s National Team.
For the Matildas, fourth is their best ever result at an Olympics. A feat which equals the fourth place finish recorded by the men’s Olyroos at Barcelona 1992.
This match saw a team that was able to rotate its squad finally hit its straps against a team that was running on pure adrenaline at times produce errors and goals in almost equal measure.
This tournament has shown Matildas’ fans all the team’s flaws and all the team’s potential in ultrahigh definition and kaleidoscopic colour.
The negatives shown in this tournament have been well known and discussed at length for years; nothing new has been learnt in that space.
The team needs centre backs, ideally with a bit of speed. Laura Brock’s retirement has reduced the centre half stocks even further.
Australia is blessed with a squad that can play many positions. Unfortunately, in a tournament as fast and furious as the Olympics, that kind of depth is less helpful than multiple players vying for one position. This was exposed most acutely with Ellie Carpenter’s absence following her red card.
But the depth problem is not one solved overnight and certainly not mid-tournament. But steps are being taken to blood new players and create that depth. In 2021 alone, the Matildas have had seven debutants – the most newbies in almost a decade. Young players not only made the Olympic squad but played their role.
Teagan Micah played five of six games in goal. Mary Fowler proved to be a difference maker every time she entered the fray and impressed when running out the full game. Kyra Cooney-Cross showed defensive strength and good passing in her patches of play. And even Courtney Nevin got some minutes in this bronze medal match.
When the Matildas were on in this tournament, they were magnificent. Sam Kerr was electric and prolific, overtaking Lisa De Vanna to become the team’s all-time leading scorer.
Steph Catley was allowed to attack as the left wing back and went on to create the most chances of any player this tournament. She also proved to be influential from the set piece.
Tameka Yallop’s running and work rate was utilised both centrally and out wide. When asked to defend she did just that and when allowed forward she created havoc, scoring the Matildas first goal.
Carpenter – barring her red card – was arguably Australia’s best player all tournament. Kyah Simon, after struggling with injury in the lead up, played an invaluable role up top.
Before this tournament and before the pandemic – barring the Olympic qualifying tournament – it had felt like this team had become a bit stagnant.
It hadn’t regressed, it was just stuck. The rest of the world continued to move forward. Things weren’t helped when the pandemic stopped the team from playing for over a year. They then had to adapt to a new coach.
In a small amount of time, Australia has rediscovered a spark. Tony Gustavsson has simply helped bring out what has always been there and reinforced it with a belief that is infectious.
This belief will only continue to grow. The team will only continue to get better. The mistakes will be learnt from. New players will emerge and depth will be created.
Come 2023, the Matildas will be better for the experience had at these Olympics.