Matildas boss admits he’s about to repeat his most controversial tactic: ‘We need to be brave’

Matildas head coach Tony Gustavsson has spoken ahead of their international friendly against Canada.

Matildas boss Tony Gustavsson has promised to ring the changes for Saturday’s friendly with Canada, using the last chance to experiment to trial “new players and new positions” against the reigning Olympic champions.

Already without superstar captain Sam Kerr and Mackenzie Arnold at either end of the field due to injury, Gustavsson promised to shake things up tactically and to give fringe players a run as he shuffles the pack ahead of an Olympic play-off in February.

On what is bound to be an emotional occasion marking the retirement of Canada’s most-capped player, Christine Sinclair, Gustavsson’s focus will be on the future – with new faces such as Charlie Rule and Sarah Hunter hoping to earn their first caps.

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Reiterating his message that the scoreline would be secondary to deepening his talent pool – and developing the Matildas’ gameplan – Gustavsson pledged to make wholesale changes across the two-game series and give his understudies the chance to lobby for a prominent role moving forward.

“This is one of the very few windows before the Olympic qualifiers (where) we can actually experiment and look at players,” he said.

“Because then February is the qualifiers (play-off with Uzbekistan) and the window in April is very close to the Olympics so we want to have some continuity working on starting line-up and such.

“So this is the one opportunity against the top-ranked opposition where we can actually test players. This first game is actually going to be more similar to when we played Spain way back when I said it’s maybe not about winning a game but winning a player.

“It’s going to give a lot of players an opportunity in this first game (and we can) look at them and what they’ve got in this environment so that they are given a fair chance to fight for a spot in an Olympic roster as well.”

Gustavsson joked that in the past – notably the controversial 7-0 loss to Spain in 2022 – he had been forced to explain retrospectively why he had experimented, so wanted to do so in advance for this encounter.

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“You’re going to see a lot of new faces in this first game. We really need to take this opportunity and be brave enough to do it,” he said.

“We’re in a process now where we need to test players to see who can earn a spot in an Olympic roster but also test different things in terms of developing our playing style. To do that against a top ranked team away is a perfect opportunity for us and I don’t want to miss that window.

“It doesn’t mean I’m not going to try to win the game but we’re not going to do that at the expense (of development) by just playing experienced players or competitive starting lineups.

“We said we need to be brave enough to test certain players in certain positions. We need to test certain tactical aspects of the game, certain phases of the game and learn from the mistakes that we will make.

“We’ll see what that does to the result. We always want to step on the field trying to win, but we’re trying to win by getting better in the things we do.

“So you’ll see some new players and new positions tomorrow, you’ll see some new tactics that we’re going to try.”

Gustavsson name-checked players such as Amy Sayer and Remy Siemsen as those who will get an audition against such strong opposition – and then, a day after the 100-day anniversary since the FIFA Women’s World Cup final, he was asked about the impact that his side continues to have, particularly in the Australian sporting landscape.

“What we can do is to make sure that the product of 90 minutes of football is as good as possible so that people want to come to watch us,” he said.

“We’re always going to be aggressive in defending, we’re going to be taking a step forward, we’re going to be attacking minded.

“It’s going to be exciting to watch us play. If you look at the goal scoring average that we had over the last year as well, that says a lot about what kind of product you get when you come to watch the Matildas.

“But the other thing that I think these players do tremendously well… is how we carry ourselves outside of the field and the role models that they are and how authentic and real they are as human beings.

“That’s one of the key reasons why I am so passionate and why I love working with this team as much as I do. I think they are such good role models for so many people out there, not just as footballers but as people as well.”

Canada v Matildas
Date: Friday, 1 December 2023 (local) / Saturday, 2 December (AEDT)
Kick-off: 7.30pm PST (local) / 2.30pm (AEDT)
Venue: Starlight Stadium, Langford, BC
Broadcast: Network 10 and Paramount+

Canada v Matildas
Date: Tuesday, 5 December 2023 (local) / Wednesday, 6 December (AEDT)
Kick-off: 7.00pm PST (local) / 2.00pm (AEDT)
Venue: BC Place, Vancouver, BC
Broadcast: Network 10 and Paramount+