16/04/2024

The Matildas lift the Cup of Nations after winning all three games. (Photo Credit: The Matildas/Twitter)

Having gone two from two to start the Cup of Nations, Tony Gustavsson once again made changes to the starting side as Australia looked to make it three from three at the tournament, and remain undefeated for the third consecutive window.

This time, it was Larissa Crummer coming in for Hayley Raso, and Courtney Nevin coming in for Charlotte Grant.

It was a perplexing move from the outside by Gustavsson to bring Crummer in to start, but the coach was able to provide a detailed explanation post-game, and why he took her out for Alex Chidiac at half-time. 

“I really want to once again stress how important it is to be good over 90 minutes,” Gustavsson stated.

“I know we tend [to] in football, both coaches and media and fans tend to overtalk about what’s the best starting line-up, who is starting, why is that one not starting?

“I think we sometimes miss to discuss what’s the finishing 11, what’s the game changes, how do we plan for 90 minutes, which player can have the best impact from the bench.

“It’s not that one player is better than the other because they start, it’s because that player might be the best option to start the game to then have different tools to change the game.

“Sometimes it’s difficult, and as I said before, we coaches are paid to try and make decisions before we know if they’re right and wrong.

“We kind of scenario train ourself in discussions to say the game might look like this and we have that player first. Ok, what can happen and kind of create that scenario of what we think the game will look like.

“For example, the discussion was Crummer, ‘Chids’ (Alex Chidiac), cause Chids deserves to start based on performance. I think we all agree on that in here.

“It doesn’t mean she should start. You know, what’s best for the game.

“We thought that, cause we were looking at Jamaica from the first two games in this tournament, they tend to be really well organised in the first halves, but then they got stretched the longer the game went.

“We felt that in that, maybe Crummer’s runs and power and set-play presence could give us more in the first half, and then when it opens up a little bit, ‘Chids’ ability to come in between lines and be faced up against that back line and maybe also unlock things if we need to unlock it which it did brilliantly.

“This time I got it right, next time [maybe] I get it wrong or maybe you say it was wrong because Chids should have started. Who knows?

“It’s a 90-minute line-up that is important to me, not just the starting line-up.”

It was a struggle in the first half for the home side, who gave up a couple of key chances which were either saved or cleared away.

The Matildas could not capitalise down the other end until Katrina Gorry created some magic out of seemingly nowhere in the 28th minute to give the hosts the lead, easing the pressure of a poor start in the process.

With Chidiac coming on for Crummer, Gustavsson’s decision was justified, as she belted one into the net 11 minutes into the second half to double Australia’s lead, and put one hand on the Cup of Nations for the Aussies.

Caitlin Foord would seal it in the 69th minute, linking up beautifully with Sam Kerr to make it 3-0.

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This win marked three straight international windows without defeat (all seven of the games were wins) for the Matildas, defeating two top 10 nations in Sweden (third) and Spain (seventh) in the process.

One of the messages across the entire tenure of Tony Gustavsson has been to trust the process.

For Tameka Yallop, when asked about being undefeated for the last three windows, her answer emphasised that message.

“It’s good. I think we’ve played a variety of teams which has really tested us in different areas and I think it’s been a long process but it’s all starting to come together and the time is now that we need it to,” Yallop said.

The win was not just about marking seven straight wins, it was also about winning the Cup of Nations. 

For Chidiac, winning a tournament in a World Cup year felt special.

“It’s really special. Lifting up a trophy, getting that feeling, and hopefully, we get to do it again come the World Cup,” she said.

The player of the tournament was Mackenzie Arnold, who only gave up two goals across the three games, recording two clean sheets in the process.

For Arnold, who was given a lot of praise by Gustavsson after the Spain game, and indeed the rest of the team, being able to use the Cup of Nations as a building block to the World Cup was important.

“I think, this being the only real tournament format we had leading into the World Cup, I think it was important for us to really get those games under our belt, especially being back to back in 10 days,” Arnold said.

“So to come up against those tough teams and perform the way we did, obviously we still have a little bit to work on but the performances were really good.

“It’s a really positive tournament for us.”

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