Kyah Simon celebrates her goal against the USA. (Photo: The Matildas)

Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson remains confident heading into the Asian Cup, buoyed by the impact of the “game changers” from the bench.

The Matildas enjoyed an improved result against the USA with a 1-1 draw on Tuesday night, but Tony Gustavsson was realistic about the performance.

The manager acknowledged the defensive issues his side showed and praised those coming off the bench as “game changers.”

“Some of the stats tonight is actually not as good as the last game,” he told media post match.

“In terms of possession, final third entries, box entries, it’s more even…we said after that game it’s conversion rate in and around the box.

“The last game, their goalkeeper kept them in the game, tonight our goalkeeper kept us in the game.

“In terms of what changed it, it’s the game changers.

“We’ve talked about it’s not just about the starting lineup, it’s about the finishing lineup and the game changers actually changed the game for us.”

The most significant of those were Alanna Kennedy moving into defence – allowing Steph Catley to push forward – and Clare Wheeler, who made an instant impact.

Wheeler executed a perfect tackle in midfield and retained possession. Steph Catley was able to play the ball into Sam Kerr who teed up Kyah Simon for the 88th minute goal.

“The key to that goal is Clare Wheeler’s tackle,” Gustavsson said.

“We said we needed to be more physical… and Clare was the game changer that came in with that mindset. Without that tackle, we wouldn’t have scored, so huge credit to her.”

Wheeler’s introduction gave the Matildas midfield some steel and spark that had been absent for much of the game. Gustavsson said he would look at the timing of the substitution to find any tactical improvements.

“One of the things we evaluate is when we do subs and how we do it because it’s all about the timing.

“Sometimes you realize you do a change too early, sometimes you do it too late, sometimes you get it perfect. Would it have been more effective if we did it earlier? I need to look at the momentum of the game.”

No punches pulled

Australia’s performance improved significantly in the second half after a lethargic first, Gustavsson offering a glimpse into the half time talk. The pressing game was an issue, obvious that the USA had too much space and time.

“I think first half, our pressing game was… it was not good,” he said, drawing a knowing nod from fullback Ellie Carpenter.

“We talked about it at half time, we were too stretched too far way, didn’t get up into enough to the duels. In the second half we were much better.”

Carpenter agreed with the manager’s sentiments, crediting what the American players were able to do in return.

“We did have some trouble I think personally, playing out (from the back) but I think it got better during the match,” she said.

“I think Emily [Fox] and Lynn (Williams) did well tonight, but also I think myself and Hayley did okay against them as well and we got in a few battles.

“Definitely think they looked at the last game and how they can expose us, but I think we solved it throughout the match and obviously in the second half it got much better.”

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The game was the last chance the team has to play together before next year’s Asian Cup. Gustavsson has been consistent in his messaging that friendly matches are for preparation, and is confident results will come in the tournament.

The chance to play against high quality opposition is something he is grateful for. Since taking over as Matildas coach, he has chosen to play against each of the top four nations according to FIFA Rankings.

“I’m extremely appreciative of the federation to arrange this type of schedule and this type of game for us,” Gustavsson said.

“To prepare is not just about the player and the staff, it’s also about the federation being on the same page and knowing what we need to do.

“Everyone from the top to the event staff, everyone that helped us make this possible, I want to personally thank every single one of them right now. Without that we can’t prepare as good as we want.

“One of the reasons we broke the record and made it to the semi final in the Olympics was because of the preparation, same thing here.”

One of the best discoveries from the two game series was youngster Courtney Nevin.

The Melbourne Victory defender has been a regular at club level in Australian football and a solid player. Last night, she announced herself as a genuine option for the national team.

Gustavsson was full of praise for the 19-year-old. He described the game as her “international breakthrough” post match.

Undoubtedly there is improvement ahead, but Gustavsson remains confident that the heavyweight sparring sessions will prove useful in the next major tournament.

“I’m extremely happy with all the answers that we got and i feel very confident going into the Asian Cup.”

It was a sentiment echoed by Carpenter. The Lyon defender emphasized the need to tighten up defensively and not switch off in the final third.

“I think the most important things about the game is the two boxes, she said.

“I think we need to be clinical in our final third but then also aim for those clean sheets every game. Obviously this is a good test against the world number one.

“[They were] two good games that we need to learn from, and obviously tonight it was good to get the draw building our confidence into the Asian Cup.”

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