Australia is less than a year away from hosting the FIFA World Cup – but the platform that was laid over the past 15 years to end that tournament with a trophy looks further away than ever before.
There’s no denying the talent the Matildas have, with players dotted all over Europe – but repeated losses and patchy performances have plagued them since Tony Gustavsson took the reins in 2022.
They had arguably their best half of football under him to date, but after the half-time break it was one-way traffic to the visitors.
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“If you look at the [first] 45 minutes today, I hope that we saw some improvement in terms of the fact that we can dominate a top team, not just compete with them, I hope that can be looked upon as an improvement,” Gustavsson said.
But asking for more good will after just one excellent half of football is a tall order – the numbers don’t lie, and the Matildas have now lost 13 of their 26 matches in the Swedish coach’s tenure.
Eighteen of those games have come against teams ranked in the top 20 in the world, with just one solitary win claimed.
The idea to schedule so many matches against the top teams is great in terms of preparing the team for some tough tests at the World Cup – but the flipside is if you can’t win any of them, fans start to lose faith in a team they once felt could beat anyone on their day.
“We all want to be winners,” he said.
“If we can have that faith and that hope in this team that come the World Cup (we) will be winners – what I’ve learned is that this team is ready to do whatever it takes to be prepared, and they’re working extremely hard to reach that.
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“And there’s a belief in that process from both the players and also internally in the federation, but when you are losing too many games it can hurt confidence a bit.”
Gustavsson has repeatedly urged media and fans alike to keep the faith – but there’s only so much stagnation people can accept.
“Externally, when you see us losing, maybe there starts to be a lack of faith or lack of hope or lack of belief. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I think there’s a difference between expectations and belief, and I say that from other experiences from coaching both men’s teams and women’s teams.
“I said that in the future this team could become one of the best teams in the world. We’re not there now, we need to be real, we’re not the best team in the world right now. But we know, when we play our best, we can beat the best team in the world in a one-off.”
Forward Caitlin Foord agreed with the ‘game of two halves’ assessment.
“How it looked was how it felt for us as well,” she said.
“We felt like we were dominating – we felt like us again, we felt like we were playing well and a bit unlucky not to score a couple more.
“We don’t have that much time together, leading into the World Cup.”
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