‘Phenomenal’ new-look attack floors Matildas coach: ‘I had high hopes – but not this high’

Matildas run riot in 8-0 demolition of Philippines | AFC Olympic Qualifiers

If you blinked you might have missed it – but when pictures of a beaming Tony Gustavsson flashed on the big screens at Optus Stadium, it told the story in its entirety.

The Matildas had just scored one of eight goals in a thumping win over the Philippines at Optus Stadium, and for a brief moment Gustavsson let his emotions show.

His side’s complete domination was a culmination of Australia’s most lethal attacking weapons performing at their devastating best. Three goals to Caitlin Foord. Three goals to Sam Kerr. A goal, an assist, and an electrifying demonstration of wing play by rising star Mary Fowler.

This was the Matildas looking better than they have before in the final third under the Swedish head coach. And it was a positional switch-up that proved a masterstroke to spark it all, and breed excitement for what’s to come.

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Gustavsson has seen Fowler’s form for Manchester City as a winger, and couldn’t resist trying the same with the national team. To facilitate Fowler’s position on the left, he needed to break up the telepathic combination of Foord and left-back Steph Catley.

The risk led to reward – and the end result spoke for itself.

“My job is to get the right player, in the right position, in the right mindset – that’s when you get the best out of them,” Gustavsson said post-game.

“Normally when Mary and Caitlin play, Mary plays as the 10 and Caitlin as an 11 (winger), because the relationship between Steph (Catley) and Caitlin is so natural – and also Mary and Sam’s relationship.

“Mary has been phenomenal out wide with City. We tested it last game, and we felt Steph and her find similar chemistry as Caitlin and Steph did.

“I had high hopes – but maybe not this high. Caitlin was phenomenal. Four assists and three goals? It’s one of her better games.”

Foord’s deployment in support of Kerr did not limit the Arsenal star to making her impact felt purely down the middle; the versatile forward drifted left and right, switching places with Fowler and Hayley Raso to keep the Philippines’ defence guessing.

Her two first-half goals were clinical finishes in central areas, but her four assists came from an array of positions; a determined run down the left set up Kerr for the Matildas’ second, and an inviting pass to to Clare Wheeler off the right wing allowed the midfielder to make it 8-0 late in the piece.

Foord’s fingerprints were all over the comprehensive showing at Optus Stadium – and post-game, the elated Matildas star revelled in the success of the fluid attacking approach encouraged by Gustavsson that kept the Philippines on their toes from start to finish.

“I don’t really know (my favourite position), to be fair!” Foord said. “I’d say out wide on the left – but today I did enjoy being a 10. It’s easy to find the ball a bit more, and I’m closer to Sam as well. We have a good relationship there. I think it’s wherever I’m needed, I just want to do my best for the team.

“Me and Sam have played together for years… it comes natural for us, we enjoy playing together but bringing everyone else into it as well. I think it just clicked today, we were all on the same page.”