Pat O’Connor, who started her footballing adventure at Bass Hill RSL as a 24-year-old, finds it amusing that at 80 years of age she…
Tony Gustavsson hopes a deep dive into the Matildas’ past failings will drive Australia to Asian Cup glory as they prepare to face Indonesia in their first group game tonight.
The Matildas haven’t won the tournament since 2010 and are widely expected to advance to the final where Japan shape as their most likely competition for the trophy.
But the Swede said his team would be taking things one game at a time with a view to hitting top gear by the time the finals roll around.
“We have asked ourselves why we haven’t succeeded since 2010,” he said.
“We took tournament experience from players and staff.
“We think we have found the key areas (and) we have prepared for (them). That’s not for the final, it’s for every step.
“We want to get out of the group and win the group and be in peak form when the key games come.”
The Matildas coach said he had the complete 23-player squad at his disposal after they travelled from Dubai to India.
He revealed he would seek to blood his youngsters in the intensity of tournament football, while also explaining he had focused on set-pieces given Australia’s attacking prowess meant other teams would likely sit deep and aim to soak up pressure.
“For those teams that sit back, we’ve spent extra time on how we can unlock those teams,” he said.
“We’ve sharpened a couple of tools in our toolbox and we’ve spent a lot of time on set-pieces because it can be difficult to create that 100 per cent chance from open play. Set-plays then become a key part of the game.”
Thailand and the Philippines also feature in Australia’s pool, the top two teams guaranteed a spot in the quarter-finals.
The tournament fired up overnight, with China thrashing Taiwan 4-0 at the Mumbai Football Arena and India grinding out a 0-0 draw against debutants Iran.
China’s ‘Steel Roses’ have not won the title since 2006, but Shui Qingxia’s side made the perfect start in the tournament’s opening game in Group A.
Wang Shuang’s two goals bookended a convincing performance from her team, the former Paris St Germain midfielder putting China ahead from the penalty spot with less than three minutes on the clock.
Zhang Linyan had been bundled over inside the penalty area just 90 seconds into the game by Pan Yen-hsin and referee Abirami Naidu pointed to the spot.
Wang coolly rolled the ball into the corner, sending goalkeeper Cheng Ssu-yu the wrong way.
Within a further six minutes Shui’s side had doubled their lead when Wang Shanshan met Gao Chen’s cross from the right, her header going in off the inside of the post.
Nine minutes into the second half China claimed a third with Wang Shuang providing the pass that allowed Zhang Xin to find space behind the Chinese Taipei defence before stroking her effort home.
Zhang returned the favour 14 minutes later when her cross from the left was somehow missed by four defenders and Wang Shuang kept her head to score.
Later at Navi Mumbai’s DY Patil Stadium, India, playing at the tournament for the first time in 19 years, made a bright start with winger Manisha whipping in crosses from the left.
But Iran soon settled into the game and twice went close to scoring when Ghazaleh Banitalebi’s header from a free kick struck the crossbar and forward Negin Zandi shot wide from close range after a defensive error from the hosts.
Manisha and forward Indumathi Kathiresan sparked hope for India as they caused trouble for the Iran defence but poor finishing prevented them finding the back of the net.
Thomas Dennerby’s India side were much improved in attack in the second half but they were again left to rue their missed chances as forward Pyari Xaxa’s failed to convert a tap-in and Kathiresan could only find the side-netting with her shot.
A superb save by Iran keeper Zohreh Koudaei in the 78th minute denied substitute Grace Dangmei as the visitors held on for a draw.
Australia’s Matildas kick off their title push when they face Indonesia in their first group game on Friday.
The Cup has been increased from eight nations to 12 for the 2022 edition, which also doubles up as the continent’s qualifier for next year’s Women’s World Cup.
The top two finishers in each group plus the two best runners-up advance to the knockout rounds.
Asia has five guaranteed berths at the 2023 World Cup plus two playoff places in addition to the one granted to tournament co-hosts Australia.
The group phase continues until January 27 with the final to be played in Mumbai on February 6.