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…
The Matildas began their Asian Cup campaign in emphatic fashion, putting 18 past tournament minnows Indonesia.
There were plenty of positives to take out of the game, with nine different players finding the back of the net, Sam Kerr breaking Australia’s international scoring record for men’s and women’s, and Aivi Luik scoring her maiden Matildas goal at 36 years old.
Despite the positives, however, Channel Ten’s expert panel were quick to lambast Tony Gustavsson’s substitutions, labelling it a missed opportunity for some inexperienced Matildas to get some minutes under their belt. Georgia Yeoman-Dale was particularly vocal of her disappointment, stating that it could raise questions in the mind of some of the team’s fringe players as to whether they will see the pitch at all this tournament.
Fans were quick to debate whether or not the subs were the right call, with many echoing Yeoman-Dale’s statements while others came to the defence of Tony, saying that a major tournament should always see our best players feature.
Following the match, the players stated that playing a strong side showed we had respect for the opponent. But with a short turnaround until the Philippines match, which will undoubtedly be a much harder contest, was Gustavsson right to give minutes to the side’s more experienced players?
While the match did present a great opportunity to see some new faces introduced, what many people have not touched on when talking about who featured in this match is the players’ minutes leading into the tournament. The playing group only arrived at camp just over a week before the tournament began, leaving little time for proper match practice or the ability to organise friendly matches leading into the tournament.
This meant that our European-based players, many of whom make up our strongest XI, hadn’t played any football since before their respective leagues winter breaks.
To put this into perspective, aside from Hayley Raso and Alanna Kennedy, who featured for Manchester City in their only match before the players were due in Dubai, the most recent minutes any of the sides European contingent got was Sam Kerr in Chelsea’s Champions League loss to Wolfsburg on December 17.
After this, Ellie Carpenter and Steph Catley have both been on winter breaks since December 16, Kyah Simon and Tameka Yallop have only seen 90 minutes of league action since the USA games, both featuring for Tottenham and West Ham respectively on December 13, and Aivi Luik has also been on winter break in Italy since December 11.
Caitlin Foord has also struggled for minutes recently, playing only 60 since the USA games, which came on December 10.
With many of our first team players not having played in over a month, while the squad’s A-League Women contingent have seen regular football up until the start of January, this was the perfect chance to build up match sharpness for them.
As much as the focus of discussion was on giving players inexperienced at international level some much-needed minutes, which people are not wrong to believe, when taking the lack of game time for our first team players into account it’s a lot clearer why Tony made the subs that he did.
And besides, the chance is always there to have the younger (and, in some cases, inexperienced) players brought on in seemingly tougher games but with more experience around them, which would arguably be better for their development.
The Matildas, meanwhile, will have their focus on their next match against the Philippines on Monday night, as they face a familiar face on the sidelines in Alen Stajcic. The Philippines could be dark horses in the tournament, particularly after beating recent World Cup participants Thailand 1-0 in their opening game.
Finally getting minutes under the belt for our key players will boost their confidence going into this one as a tricky tie awaits.
While arguments can be raised for and against the substitutions Tony made, it’s clear to see there was a reason behind it other than simply “respecting the opponent”. While minutes for young players are always good to see, making sure our starting XI are in peak condition is just as, if not more important.
With that being said, the focus of last night’s match, in the end, should be on golden girl Sam Kerr, breaking Tim Cahill’s record for most goals scored for the Australian national team, as well as a brilliant result to set a platform for (hopefully) a successful Asian Cup campaign.