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The fairy tale is over for the Matildas

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11th April, 2022
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A number of friends of mine travelled north to Townsville last Friday for the first of a duo of friendlies between the Matildas and the Football Ferns.

Author Texi Smith and active support member Michelle Prasad were on the cans by 11am after an early flight and Greg Werner, co-author of the textual and visual non-fiction masterpiece Encyclopaedia of Matildas, took to the streets with his trusty camera in hand and spent the day capturing images in the brilliant tropical paradise.

All three are passionate devotees of Australian football, intelligent and committed in their own individual ways to supporting the women’s game on its journey towards greater national traction. Their social media accounts told the story of the sojourn north, yet the bubbling issues lingering around the current squad could well make future trips a little less appealing.

The second of the two fixtures will be played tonight, after New Zealand stunned the Australians early in the first encounter, before the Aussies did some stunning of their own in injury time. Late goals to Emily van Egmond and Sam Kerr got the locals over the line in the most electric finish to a match that most would concede the Kiwis were unlucky to lose.

Sam Kerr kicks.

(Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

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There was much celebration of the last-gasp win, yet not for the first time, it merely masked a series of problems that show little signs of being addressed in the short term.

As something of a symbolic coming together of the two nations that will host the world at the 2023 Women’s World Cup, the matches also provided the Matildas with a further opportunity to blood a host of players coach Tony Gustavsson has drip-fed limited minutes in recent fixtures.

Instead, the Swede went, once again, with a battle-hardened core group that he appears to resort to in almost all situations and even brought super mum Katrina Gorry back into the starting line-up.

Caitlin Foord and Tameka Yallop are also parts of the Matilda furniture and were used as substitutes, with only Cortnee Vine of the next wave of Matildas afforded any playing time at all; approximately six minutes.

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These fixtures also provided the chance for Gustavsson to prove to a now somewhat sceptical football public that there is some method to what many see as madness and that there is clear development taking place within the squad.

Gustavsson has talked about playing the long game in the past – we heard such language prior to the Asian Cup and the team collapsed when the first serious challenge arose.

Whilst the coach will have us believe that he is cleverly pulling all the pieces together before letting loose a team capable of winning the World Cup on home soil next August, it feels like there are very few folk buying the sales pitch. In fact, aside from the most loyal supporters of the man brought in to take the Matildas to new heights, the average football fan in the street sees nothing of the sort taking place, and, potentially, even a regression.

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The win-loss column is awful under Gustavsson. Top European sides have dismissed the Matildas with a waft, very little playing time has been given to the women destined to decide to the team’s fate over the next decade and tactically, there is little conviction.

All the while, the coach prances, dances, flaps and gesticulates on the side lines passionately, with the performance suggesting to many that he is perhaps a little too focussed on himself and less on the simple fact that Australia’s national women’s football team is now floundering at 12 in the FIFA World Rankings and sinking further.

After riding a wave of support and success throughout the Alen Stajcic era, the rapid development in women’s football has seen things get very real for the Matildas very quickly, as true professionalism enters the game and the wick is rightfully turned up on performances, character and future expectations.

Alen Stajcic

(Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

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Frankly, the brand has become somewhat tarnished over the last 12 months.

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Lisa De Vanna’s brave and corroborated allegations around culture, harsh but fair assessments of the team’s results by ex-players and analysts and the still unanswered questions surrounding the sacking of Stajcic and the employment of the overseas-based Gustavsson have all eroded some of the previous unbridled positive sentiment felt towards the Matildas.

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For some years now, the squeaky clean image of the team has provided something of a free pass when it came to any potential criticism or accountability. However, that is no longer the case.

Right now, the Matildas are no better than a number of teams they previous felt far superior to, the old crew that failed at the recent Asian Cup appears set to be entrusted with doing better at the World Cup next year and the coach keeps telling everyone that things are rosy and the team needs to be judged at the finishing line.

The honeymoon is well and truly over and the Matildas are now starting to understand what it is like for the Socceroos, who are whacked from pillar to post after every poor performance.

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