05/03/2024

The Matildas in Ireland. Image @TheMatildas twitter

As the Matildas being to preapre for World Cup in 2023, what lessons can be learned from the 3-2 defeat to Ireland?

After the Tokyo Olympics, The Matildas coaching staff identified on-field areas that needed to improve. With that in mind, Australia named a squad packed with new defensive options to face The Republic of Ireland.

Tony Gustavsson has been clear that the team is now in “preparation mode” but was unhappy with the performance in a surprising loss. As they work towards the World Cup, what lessons can be learned from the 3-2 defeat?

The first few minutes are crucial

The damage was done early in each half. Ireland took the lead in the third minute and scored again just four minutes after the break.

Australia began both halves looking slightly off the pace. Passes were nervy, first touches were heavy, and defending was hesitant.

Tony Gustavsson noted the lack of intensity.

“It felt that they wanted it more than us and that’s not ok,” he said to the media post-match.

“That hurts, to be honest, obviously I need to look myself in the mirror as well to ask if I could have done something different to prepare the team.”

For fans, it brought back memories of the Olympic semi-final. After matching and outplaying Sweden until half time they conceded quickly after kickoff and never found a way back.

In the Bronze medal match, Carli Lloyd scored in the 51st minute. It is becoming a worrying trend.

Ireland is a team that has struggled to score in recent months and this game broke a seven-match losing streak. For Australia to concede so quickly against them will be a concern for the manager.

Pace is needed in defense

Australia was without Ellie Carpenter but otherwise had more than the full contingent of defenders. Gustavsson remains committed to three center-backs but without the Lyon star, his side looks vulnerable to speedy attackers.

Ireland’s Heather Payne constantly troubled the defense. she was able to chase down hopeful passes and looked ready to pounce on any errors or hesitation.

“I think we struggled with the long balls,”  Gustavsson said.

“If you compare to the Olympics where we won almost everything in the air and picked up second balls… we didn’t (do) that today.

“Those balls in behind looked more dangerous than it should have been.”

One of the aims of this camp was to identify and try new defenders. Angie Beard looked comfortable at the international level and Charlotte Grant’s athleticism could make her an asset in the role.

Some possible solutions might have been found but for now, the problems remain.

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Fowler and Cooney-Cross continue to impress

The two teenagers were impressive in cameos during the Olympics. If there was any doubt left of their worth to the national team this match dispelled it.

Fowler scored a brace and Cooney-Cross was involved and proactive throughout.

When asked for any positive notes on the match, Gustavsson named the pair in thier first start together.

“In terms of individuals, there are two players for me that stand out,” said an otherwise disappointed coach.

“Mary Fowler’s first half is just world-class. Oh my, she is so good out there, on and off the ball, and the way she sets players up, her movement, she’s floating out there.

“She’s one v three at times and just slides out of those pressure moments and then her finishing…she’s brilliant with both her right and left foot.”

Fowler was something special. her goals may have been slightly fortuitous but she’s able to make room with quick feints and turns. In another moment of magic, she twisted into space in midfield and split the defense with a through-ball to Sam Kerr. She has vision, technique, and confidence beyond her experience.

“The other one that is really positive is Kyra Cooney-Cross,” Gustavsson continued.

“She looked like a very experienced player. especially when she played in that ‘six’ role and kind of glued our team together.

“I think she gave away the ball once in the whole first half.”

Cooney-Cross has looked competent as a Matilda up until now. Against Ireland, she more closely resembled the player that dominated the W-League last season. A quick shift of feet and that familiar surge of pace almost led to her first international goal.

A second-half run from deep opened up the Ireland defense for a pass to Emily Gielnik.

Cooney-Cross reveled in the responsibility and opportunity. she was exceptional for Australia. Following the retirement of Aivi Luik and the injuries to Elise Kellond-Knight and Chloe Logarzo, The Melbourne Victory playmaker could quickly go from a promising to an essential player amongst Gustavsson’s ranks.

Australia has work to do

The Matildas were missing at least five players from thier best 11. Nevertheless, the manager was offering no excuses for the loss.

“Let’s be honest here, We have a lot of work to do come World Cup ’23 and today it was even more clear,” he said.

Australia conceded three goals from set-pieces and although they found a way back into the contest Gustavsson lamented the lack of opportunities.

He pointed out that only 20% of crosses found thier target and 50% of passes in the final third were completed.

There is no doubt that any of Hayley Raso, Caitlin Foord Kyah Simon would have made a difference. However, Australia has rarely entered a major tournament with a full squad. They need to be able to perform when missing players and are working towards this.

It is another month until the team is back together. They will be under no illusions about what needs to change. A loss in skipper Sam Kerr’s 100th game will hurt, The Matildas will expect to bounce back, the manager will demand it.

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