Tony Gustavsson has selected a full strength squad for the Olympic Games.
The Matildas manager was confident that he had the right mix of players to do the job in Tokyo when speaking to the media from Sweden.
“I like the versatility that a lot of these players have, I know from experience in an Olympic tournament… that you need players to be able to play multiple positions. Especially when there’s very few days in between the games.
“Theres a nice mix of different types of players, you have everything from unique pace to strong players, smart players in terms of the playmaking roles.”
The inclusions of three of the players making their Olympic debut support this statement. Aivi Luik is able to fill in in a variety of midfield and defensive roles, Emily Gielnik can play on either flank or as a center forward and Kyra Cooney-Cross is adept across any midfield or attacking role.
“For me, age doesn’t really matter, it’s about quality and character,” said the manager of the Melbourne Victory teenager.
The return of Elise Kellond-Knight is an exciting proposition for Matildas fans, but Gustavsson was quick to temper expectations of a player returning from a serious knee injury.
“Will she be ready for 90 minutes back-to-back to back? Probably not but with her experience and the type of player she is, I value her qualities a lot…she can play multiple positions and she has an experience that means when she steps into a pressure cooker for 20 minutes in any game in any position I know she can deliver.”
The back four are as expected with Alanna Kennedy and Clare Polkinghorne playing between Ellie Carpenter and Steph Catley. Interestingly, no other specialist fullbacks are in the squad meaning that fans might see a return to the back three that stunted Sweden attack in the last friendly.
Wide defenders Courtney Nevin and Charlotte Grant are traveling as alternates should there be a late withdrawal.
Up front the talent is obvious, Mary Fowler is included after impressing in the friendlies and Kyah Simon has retained her spot for her second Olympic tournament.
The star among stars, Sam Kerr is clear that the past is no factor on what the side can accomplish.
“We’re just taking it one game at a time, if we focus on that one game and play every game like it’s the final I think we give ourselves a good chance. We’re really confident in our ability as a team.
“The Olympics is a different tournament to a World Cup. It’s quicker, the games come around a lot quicker and it’s a smaller tournament.
“We honestly haven’t talked about getting out of the group…we’ve talked about that New Zealand game and making sure every single person is ready and prepared and we put our best foot forward.”
Referring to the recent run of poor results, Kerr was untroubled, there are bigger events on the fast-approaching horizon.
“For us, it’s not been about those games. Of course, you want to win every game you play but it’s a process, It’s about that first game.
“Although we want to perform every single game its been a process about getting to where we want to be come The Olympics.”
Alongside the captain, Gustavsson has selected some strong attacking options, Hayley Raso and Mary Fowler will make their Olympic debuts while Kyah Simon and Caitlin Foord will be at their second games.
Gustavsson described the difficulty in determining how to select from Australia’s significant attacking wealth. Alex Chidiac had an impressive W-League season and was included in the recent camps but is not in the 18-player squad.
“The tough decision was to have to leave some of those attacking talents out that actually have the quality to be part of an Olympic roster but the competition for that spot is really, really tough.”
The manager has spoken before of the impact he expects players not in the starting 11 to have. He prefers the word “game changers” to substitutes and keeps them reminded of their importance.
“Even if you’re not starting a game it doesn’t mean you’re not important. it can actually mean that you’re even more important being a game changer and coming off the bench.
“I think the experience of understanding that makes the players more accepting of not starting the game because it doesn’t mean that you’re not valued. it’s just that your qualities are valued off the bench.
“My job… is to kind of see the future, what kind of game do we think this can be in the first half or the first hour and what kind of tools do we need from the bench?… also balancing that physical load because that will be a thing you need to do in the Olympics.”
As Tokyo approaches, Gustavsson is confident in his players and his process, as a member of the all-conquering U.S staff he knows what it takes to win in tournaments.
Speaking about the path the team is on he said, “I’ve been through this before and I know what happens to teams that believes in the process enough.
“What happens is at the end of that process you get one day better and then come that tournament, you’re peaking.”
The squad is in, the coach is confident and New Zealand awaits.
Australia takes on the Football Ferns on July 21 at 9:30pm AEST