After guiding Australia to the semi-finals of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup, an emotional Tony Gustavsson broke away from his post-match on-field interview duties to soak in the cheers and applause from a fervent crowd.
This was an incredible feat, a moment in history achieved following the most incredible penalty shootout conclusion. And the crowd cheered and applauded for the man who has been given so much to deal with in such a short time at this record-breaking tournament.
Speaking in the post-match press-conference, where the journalists were just as stunned as himself, the Swede admitted to an unhealthy addiction to the pressure of managing the Matildas, and indeed was emotional as he mentioned all the people who would have been positively affected by this achievement.
Two key moments defined the game for him, where those behind the scenes, those ‘eyes in the sky’ as he called them, those technical gurus sitting high in the stands, helped shape the course of the game.
Firstly, there was the introduction of Sam Kerr; it was early in the second half. Australia had the momentum, they were creating chances and Kerr’s introduction was timed to take that momentum to a new level.
Matildas captain Sam Kerr. (Photo by Ryan Pierse/Getty Images)
Whilst his captain’s energy and running was welcome, the goals didn’t arrive, and indeed France came back into the game strongly during the second half.
Was this a risk? Did she have enough minutes in her to complete the rest of the half, plus extra time, if required?
The second such decision was when to bring on Cortnee Vine. In the first period of extra time, the call was made to take off the dynamic Hayley Raso, herself a match-winner and capable of producing something out of nothing, and throw in Vine to try and win the game.
The decision was so close to being the masterstroke as Vine met a cross from the left from Caitlin Foord and poked a shot just wide.
With extra time almost over and France substituting their goalkeeper for the penalties à la Graham Arnold, Kyah Simon was stripped and had been warming up. Of course, her penalty heroics in the 2010 Asian Cup were on his mind, but in the end, Gustavsson decided to put his faith in the 11 who were on the field at the end.
Simon had been on an individual plan. This wasn’t her moment. Technically and tactically, from the huddle, where to stand, the order of penalty-takers, every minute detail was taken care of and he was sure that they were prepared as best they could for the impending penalty drama.
Was it goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold who would step up and complete the final chapter of this story? It wasn’t to be. Would it be defender Clare Hunt to write herself into the history books and score the winning penalty? Again, it wasn’t to be.
Would it be World Cup debutant Vine, written down as the 10th penalty-taker on the night, who would be the headline-maker? He had full faith in every one of his players, and in Macca, he was amazed that she kept her head in the game so well after missing her penalty.
The send-off that the team had received today on leaving the hotel, the welcome at the stadium, the energy from the crowd, this had contributed to this moment that had united a nation.
He was incredibly proud for all the other people in this incredible story, and reiterated what he has said all along: this team can create history, and this team can leave a legacy far beyond the World Cup.
(Photo by Chris Hyde – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)
The moment when the crowd roared as the Matildas coach walked around the field at the end of the game was a special one.
This astute and meticulously-prepared people manager, somewhat unfairly derided by certain members of the football community, had won over a lot of people and had guided Australia to their best-ever World Cup performance.
What was left to do this evening? It was time to embrace the moment and to enjoy this success.
This was part of the mental recovery that they needed to complement the physical recovery, and the players would see their families at the hotel before getting the required sleep and recovery to start the preparation for the week ahead.
All part of the plan. All part of the preparation.
This master tactician was already at work planning the next game.