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Opinion

Tony Gustavsson knows new blood is required if the Matildas are to be a World Cup threat

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Expert
25th October, 2021
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There is little doubt that the 3-1 defeat of Brazil on Saturday night in Sydney will give the Matildas some much-needed confidence after what has been a difficult period.

With Lisa De Vanna’s accusations and the endorsements of them emanating from other sources, the issues of bullying and abuse in the female football workplace are not about to disappear.

Sports Integrity NSW has launched what will hopefully be a thorough probe into allegations raised by former players and all members of the football community are encouraged to access the online reporting tool and report questionable behaviour, whether it be current or historical.

No doubt, the current Matildas would have been a little apprehensive as they flew back into Australia for the duo of matches against Brazil, wondering whether the unsavoury accusations would have any impact upon the level of affection shown towards them by the local fans.

Sam Kerr kicks.

Sam Kerr of the Matildas kicks. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Thankfully, the 15,270 people who ventured to CommBank Stadium for the first match were not there to further inflame debate around the issue, nor criticise any members of the current squad, whose reputations deserve to remain intact until any inappropriate behaviour is actually proven.

That sense of natural justice must be preserved in a civilised society, despite the media microscope being drawn to a number of long-standing players in the squad and what they knew, saw and may have subsequently accepted by failing to call incidents to account.

It was those senior pros that had the Matildas off to a superb start against Brazil.

Pressing high and suffocating their opposition, the early pressure applied by the Matildas eventually saw a clever Sam Kerr knock down header find the foot of Clare Polkinghorne, who opened the scoring from close range.

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Emily van Egmond sealed the match for the Aussies in the 80th minute after a superb run and cut back from Steph Catley and with over 430 full international caps collectively held between the four players involved in those two goals, it would be fair to say that there is still plenty of life in the Matilda’s old guard, with a 2023 World Cup looming on the horizon.

However, in between those moments, Mary Fowler scored yet another goal in national colours and continues to build a reputation as one of the most promising young players in world football. Still just 18, Fowler has already earned 17 caps for the Matildas and the goals have begun to flow, with three in her previous two starts.

Aside from the introduction of Fowler and an ever-present and still only 21 Ellie Carpenter, the Matildas squad has seen little rejuvenation and evolution in recent years. A core group of ever-reliable players were originally blended together under former manager Alen Stajcic. They ventured to the previous World Cup under Ante Milicic and then challenged commendably at the Tokyo Olympics.

Along with Catley, Polkinghorne, Kerr and van Egmond, Lydia Williams, Alanna Kennedy, Tamika Yallop and Hayley Raso have essentially been automatic selections over the last five years.

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Now, new manager Tony Gustavsson appears to have chartered a clear path towards 2023, with the next generation seemingly destined to receive the playing minutes required for it to be ready to challenge for the biggest trophy in women’s football.

Gustavson’s current squad contains the best and brightest of Australian talent, with some of them likely to play a key role in two years’ time.

Danish-based Clare Wheeler received her second cap on Saturday night, as did Adelaide-born Charlotte Grant, while Sydney FC striker Remy Siemsen and 18-year-old Wanderer Bryleeh Henry achieved their first.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – OCTOBER 23: Charlotte Grant of the Matildas thanks fans

Charlotte Grant thanks Matildas fans at CommBank Stadium (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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Henry’s Western Sydney teammate Courtney Nevin has already had a taste of international football under Gustavsson, and at 19 looks like another long-term proposition.

As does 18-year-old Brisbane Roar defender Jamilla Rankin, a player who may well receive her first cap tonight in the second match of the series.

The approach Gustavsson is taking is as obvious as the proverbial nose on your face, with a few injuries in the playing stocks and a clear view to the future, motivating his selection of a host of young stars that will do nothing other than benefit from their time around the full national squad.

Fowler was utterly sublime in midfield against the Brazilians and 19-year-old Kyra Cooney-Cross played superbly, sitting in front of and protecting her back four with aplomb, while also engaging Catley and Carpenter on the flanks with well-weighted and precise passes.

No doubt, a few new faces will make appearances tonight, with the coach eyeing off the 2022 Asian Cup to be played in India and attempting to identify which of the youngsters deserve a spot in his squad for that tournament.

It is the most proactive of approaches being taken by Gustavsson and one that admits the need for evolutionary change in the Matildas ranks.

As good a team as they have been in recent years, serious contention in the 2023 World Cup will require the development of fresh and younger faces in the interim period.

Already Fowler and Cooney-Cross have made their way into the starting IX. It will be interesting to see who is next.

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