Matildas to face old friends and familiar foes at Tokyo Olympics

Emily van Egmond battles for the ball against the U.S.A Picture: Matildas.com.au

The Matildas will face Sweden, the U.S.A and New Zealand at the Tokyo Olympics. It is a group that will be a challenge to the players and a delight to fans.

There are no easy paths to Olympic Gold. Only 12 nations are represented in Women’s Football making each game a heavyweight encounter.

As the tournament approaches, Tony Gustavsson will be confident of progressing to the knockout stages but each side will present unique challenges.

U.S.A

The current World Cup holders are still the benchmark of women’s football despite the recent strides made by Europe. The Americans are star-studded, talented, and experienced. They boast some of the biggest names in the sport. Featuring striker Alex Morgan, midfielder Rose Lavelle, and the incomparable Megan Rapinoe.

Australia has a relatively good recent record against the U.S.A.

Recent tense encounters have resulted in a 1-0 win for Australia in 2017, a 1-1 draw the following year, and a 5-3 defeat in 2019.

However, all three of these games were on U.S soil. Tokyo will be the first meeting on neutral territory.

Australia’s best players will be comfortable facing the Americans and match up well with the USWNT. Superstar, Sam Kerr still holds scoring records in the American League and will be confident in scoring against them.

Similarly, former NWSL stars Hayley Raso, Ellie Carpenter and Alanna Kennedy should be equally at home.

Matildas manager Tony Gustavsson was the assistant coach for the 2019 World Cup triumph. Hopefully, any tactical insight he has on his old side will bridge that already very small gap.

This is a huge but winnable game for the Aussies.

New Zealand

New Zealand qualified in style, they scored 43 times and conceded none to win the 2018 OFC Nations Cup.

The Football Ferns have not had any games recently and this will be a concern leading into the tournament.  Although individually some of New Zealand’s best players have been in great form in the recent W-League season.

Annalie Longo and Claudia Bunge were both vital for Melbourne Victory. Longo was key to the midfield and Bunge a fixture in a defense that kept eight clean sheets.

Paige Satchell was explosive for Canberra United and will be looking to add to her international caps. She has the pace to trouble the fullbacks, an area exploited by recent opposition.

To add another twist, New Zealand also has Tom Sermanni. The coach of The Matilda’s historic 2010 Asian Cup triumph helped develop many of the current Australian stars.  He knows them well but knowing what somebody can do and being able to stop them are very different things.

Australia’s most recent game against New Zealand was a 2-0 in 2019. It was a match most notable for Hayley Raso’s spectacular scoring return from a long-term back injury.

Australia should expect to win but New Zealand will not make it easy.

Sweden

The Swedes might be the biggest challenge for The Matildas.

The recent track record against Europeans is not good. They have suffered big losses to The Netherlands and Germany recently, conceding 5 goals to each.

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Disappointingly they were knocked out of the 2019 World Cup by Norway and from the 2016 Olympics by Germany.

Sweden has qualified for every Olympic women’s football tournament and the current squad made the semi-finals in France.

Ominously, they defeated Germany in the quarterfinals, and given how Australia fared against the Germans this could be tough.

Sweden’s star is Sofia Jakobsson. The Real Madrid striker had a great World Cup and is a fast, powerful forward that could punish Australia’s defense.

The subplot in this game again is Tony Gustavsson who will be coaching against his own nation. if he could break a losing streak against European sides this would set Australia on the road to a medal.

Everything will need to go right to win this game and a draw will be a great result.

What the Aussies Need

Based on recent tournaments, the U.S.A and Sweden will be favorites to top the group. Australia should not be dismissed, the top two from each group advance plus the best third-placed team.

The Matildas do not have as much depth as the U.S.A. Their chances will rely heavily on which players are available.

Recent matches showed just how vital players like Chloe Logarzo and Ellie Carpenter are. For their game-changing abilities and for the side’s structure. Carpenter is regarded as one of the best right-backs in the world and has played well against Rapinoe in the past. Logarzo was one of the main catalysts in the miracle comeback win against Brazil in 2019. Gustavsson will be hoping that Steph Catley will be available and will hopefully have the option of selecting W-League players for this squad too.

Speaking after the fixture, Gustavsson was typically matter-of-fact about the challenge ahead. ” Let’s just face the best in the group stage and do the best we can to get out of that group and then everything can happen.”

Australian fans should be excited about this draw, we have the best striker in the world, a coach with inside knowledge and a history of big performances in big matches.

They find themselves in an almost identical group to the 2015 World Cup (with New Zealand replacing Nigeria). Like then they will go in as underdogs but just as in Canada, they can surprise the doubters.

If the lineup is even nearly full strength they should reach to the knockout stage. Whatever the results this is a great test leading into the 2023 World Cup. Lets get it done.

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