As The Matildas prepare to re-ignite their rivalry with Brazil, manager Tony Gustavsson spoke of pressure and improvement to the media on Friday.
Australia have not lost to the South American powerhouse in the last five meetings but are coming off two defeats including a surprise loss to The Republic of Ireland.
Gustavsson was clearly thrilled to be in Australia for the first time. His enthusiasm for the upcoming match was contagious between players and the coach.
“That excitement that exists within this group to play Brazil has definitely spread to me as well,” he said.
“Theres so many things to be excited about here, the first time at home soil in 600 days, playing Brazil… we have Alanna Kennedy who’s a local player playing her 100th cap.
I hope that excitement is the thing that is going to take over so we have this fantastic 90 minutes-plus of football so that we can celebrate the women’s game in that sense.”
Australia’s history against Brazil is an unlikely rivalry. There is no geographical, historical or political reason for its existence. It has grown over time purely from football.
It is a familiar opponent for The Matildas but the circumstances are different this time.
The team has arrived home without the fanfare that usually accompanies them. In part because of the COVID restrictions and also due to the recent concerns of the team culture.
Gustavsson was more than ready for questions about how the players are handling the scrutiny. Bringing out a white board he began to excitedly explain his philosophy for success and became an instant meme while doing so.
He illustrated with a small circle within a larger one, that pressure can come from the outside but also from within. That space squeezed between was where players had to be able to perform to succeed in a high performance environment.
His intentions as coach are to build a playing group that thrives under that intensity.
“If we genuinely want to be that team that can lift the trophy in 2023, we need to get used to performing under pressure and look at pressure as a privilege, because that means there’s a lot of interest in our team. and the fact that there’s a lot of interest in out team is as good thing.”
There would be “growing pains” he warned, as Australia adjusted to new tactics and methods.
“we’re in the process right now, where you might see as little of a lack of an ability to perform and overthink things.
“But we need to go through that growth progress to come on the other side of that development journey….I feel this bubbling within the players right now. it’s like they cant wait to get that kickoff and do what they love and that’s represent their country and wear that crest on their chest.”
Gustavsson brushed aside concerns over Australia’s leaky defence, It’s all part of the learning curve that he likens to a new golf swing.
Fans should not expect pragmatism to get results in friendlies. There will be no parking of the proverbial bus.
“Thats not what this team is about,” he declared.
“Thats not what our fans want to see. the identity of The Matildas is always going to be that we take a step forward, that we’re very aggressive in our pressing game that we want to have an attacking mindset.
“We’ve also shown that we can score a lot of goals even against a top quality opponent…our challenge now is to say, can we stay true to who we are, but still defend better without being conservative.
“I’m putting the players through a process here where it’s all about preparation. I’m not going to try to win at the expense of losing time to develop the team to where i think it needs to be.”
Gustavsson was unusually frustrated after the loss to Ireland. At the time he described his mood as “emotional.”
With the benefit of time and analysis he has been able to pinpoint what they need to do different in this camp.
“We did some physical testing in the beginning of the camp and maybe I as a coach made it feel more like a pre-season camp kind of thing.
“The other thing identified is I put a lot of emphasis on us honouring Sam’s 100th cap going into that game. to really make sure that we send her off on that 100th game with a goal and a good feeling.
“I think what happened is we went ‘route north’ all the time because the players wanted to give Sam that goal so much. so i think we didn’t really play the way we wanted to play because we were so keen to get the ball to Sam to score that goal.”
For fans who watch nervously when Australia defends a set piece, the manager is aware of the issue and is working on it.
“The one thing we didn’t train on the field before the game was defending set plays, we only covered it in video session.
“We had very limited time to prep that game tactically…everyone that saw it saw we copped three goals on set plays…That’s on me. Is it an easy fix? Yes.
“Some easy goals on set play and some lack of quality in the final third,” he said summing up the last performance.
“That hurt us in that game and that has to improve against Brazil.”
Image Source: Football Australia