Australia coach Tony Gustavsson has named a 25-player squad as preparations for the Asian Cup enter the final stages.
The team will train in the United Arab Emirates before the final 23 players are selected. Gustavsson has chosen a full strength side with a mix of experienced players and new faces from the A-League Women.
In a welcome selection surprise, Aivi Luik has reversed her decision to retire from international football. As a key performer at the Tokyo Olympics, Luik will bring leadership, quality and versatility to the team.
The manager said that after exploring many options in friendly matches, Luik was needed.
“I had a long conversation with Aivi around Christmas,” Gustavsson told the media this morning.
“I’ve been very keen on going from performance mode to preparation mode and back to performance mode again.”
“We’ve had 58 players and 13 debutants and that’s what we need to do when we’re in preperation mode.
“When we go into performance mode it’s all about what’s the best team possible to go create results in the tournament.”
Luik played as a central defender at the Olympics, but she can shift into defensive midfield easily. She can provide tactical flexibility to switch formations and tactics without making substitutions.
Under Gustavsson she has dropped into defence when Australia are without possession and sometimes pushed into midfield when they have the ball, shifting seamlessly between two roles.
“I felt we needed that experience to balance the young ones coming in,” Gustavsson said of her qualities.
“We also need a backup option in holding midfield and also in centre back.”
Gustavsson has drawn on the A-league Women to provide extra depth and possibilities to the team.
Melbourne Victory’s Kyra Cooney-Cross and Courtney Nevin’s inclusions are no surprise and Remy Siemsen has been rewarded after a strong start to Sydney FC’S season.
Melbourne City have provided Holly McNamara and Winonah Heatley while Cortnee Vine has gotten a call up after brilliant and consistent form.
Gustavsson relied on a combination of statistics and watching how they performed in games to make his selections.
“The scouting job is one of the toughest jobs in from a national team standpoint,” he said
“Not just for me but as a group… we need eyes everywhere.”
Australia has potential Matildas across the U.S college system, in Europe and at home. The manager has relied on a network of trusted staff to look at all the possibilities.
“They have impressed every single one of us that has watched them live in terms of their performances… but also their statistics are standouts.”
He points out that Vine has the best expected goals and assists record in the league and that her one-on-one dribbling might come in handy. The Sydney FC attacker will finally get an opportunity to impress after missing earlier camps through injury.
The City duo, McNamara and Heatley have impressed in the start to the A-League season.
“She has the most assists in the league,” said Gustavsson in praise of McNamara.
“(She had) the third most key passes in the league, fourth in the league when it comes to one-on one dribbling…We need players that can break lines with or without the ball.”
Gustavsson famously loves players that be described as “game changers” and Mcnamara has epitomized that phrase so far this season.
Heatley is valued for her defensive skills but she is a well rounded player that Gustavsson sees big potential in.
“The one thing that stands out is her playmaking skills as a defender…she has played with a lot of confidence.”
The Matildas squad was initially proposed to consist of 30 players and Gustavsson stressed the importance of being flexible in the era of COVID. More players might yet be called upon in am emergency, but he was reluctant to remove them from their clubs.
“Out of respect to individual players but also the clubs and the leagues we didn’t want to pull players out of that environment when they’re playing games.”
Katrina Gorry was also selected but unable to travel international with a newborn but her initial inclusion points to a possible appearance in future.
The switch to tournament mode for Australia brings pressure on Gustavsson, but it is something he relishes.
“And I like it,” he emphasises
“I said that in the Olympics as well it’s a privilege to feel pressure.
“I am a winner, I like to compete, and I love tournament mode. Especially if we do well in the group stage when it comes to playoffs when it’s those do or die games… I love that.”
Gustavsson is intent of bringing the trophy home after a 12 year absence. But he cautions that it will not be easy. Japan is so often the hardest hurdle in the Asian Cup and Australia has not beaten them in a competitive match in 11 years.
The manager, staff and players have put effort into understanding how the Matildas have fallen just short so many times since 2010.
Although they plan to win the cup, Gustavsson is not looking too far beyond the group stage. The Matildas made the final in 2018 but had difficulty in the knockout stages. They needed a late Alanna Kennedy equaliser to win the semi finals on penalties.
“A little bit of a reminder with what happened against Thailand in that last tournament with a last-minute goal,” says Gustavsson, evoking the tight match.
“We can’t take anything for granted… we need to look at the opening game and then one game at a time.
“But we have identified some areas that could potentially be the reason why we haven’t succeeded before and we hope we can do it better now.”
Matildas Asian Cup Squad:
|Name||Position||Club||Caps (goals)||Junior Club / Member Fed|
|Mackenzie ARNOLD||Goalkeeper||West Ham United||27 (0)||Burleigh / Football QLD|
|Ellie CARPENTER||Back||Lyon||54 (1)||Cowra and District / Football NSW|
|Steph CATLEY||Back||Arsenal WFC||96 (3)||East Bentleigh, SE Cougars / Football Victoria|
|Kyra COONEY-CROSS||Midfielder||Melbourne Victory||14 (0)||Ballarat City / Football Victoria|
|Caitlin FOORD||Forward||Arsenal WFC||95 (21)||Warilla Wanderers / Football NSW|
|Mary FOWLER||Forward||Montpellier||20 (5)||Leichhardt / Football QLD|
|Emily GIELNIK||Forward||Aston Villa||50 (11)||Redlands United / Football QLD|
|Charlotte GRANT||Back||FC Rosengård||3 (0)||Cumberland United Women’s FC / Football South Australia|
|Winonah HEATLEY*||Back||Melbourne City||0 (0)||Mossman and Cairns / Football QLD|
|Alanna KENNEDY||Back||Manchester City||102 (8)||Campbelltown Cobras / Football NSW|
|Sam KERR||Forward||Chelsea||104 (49)||Western Knights / Football West|
|Aivi LUIK||Back||Pomigliano||33 (0)||Palm Beach SC / Football QLD|
|Holly McNAMARA*||Forward||Melbourne City||0 (0)||Ermington United Sports and Recreation Club / Football NSW|
|Teagan MICAH||Goalkeeper||FC Rosengård||8 (0)||Brisbane Blue, Brisbane Central / Football QLD|
|Courtney NEVIN||Back||Melbourne Victory||7 (0)||Oakville Ravens / Football NSW|
|Clare POLKINGHORNE||Back||Vittsjö GIK||138 (12)||Wynnum Wolves, Capalaba / Football QLD|
|Hayley RASO||Forward||Manchester City||58 (6)||Banora Point / Football QLD|
|Karly ROESTBAKKEN*||Back||Canberra United (on loan)||7 (0)||Monaro Panthers / Capital Football|
|Remy SIEMSEN||Forward||Sydney FC||2 (0)||Manly United / Football NSW|
|Kyah SIMON||Forward||Tottenham Hotspur||105 (27)||Quakers Hill, Hills Brumbies / Football NSW|
|Emily VAN EGMOND||Midfielder||Newcastle Jets (on loan)||112 (23)||Dudley-Redhead / Northern NSW Football|
|Cortnee VINE*||Forward||Sydney FC||0 (0)||Peninsula Power FC / Football QLD|
|Clare WHEELER||Midfielder||Fortuna Hjørring||5 (0)||Adamstown Rosebud / Northern NSW Football|
|Lydia WILLIAMS||Goalkeeper||Arsenal WFC||95 (0)||Tuggeranong, Woden Valley / Capital Football|
|Tameka YALLOP||Midfielder||West Ham United||101 (11)||Mudgeeraba / Football QLD|