Network 10 pundits Andy Harper and former Matilda Amy Chapman weighed in on the Matildas’ 5-0 defeat at the hands of Canada on Saturday afternoon (AEDT).
The Matildas were beaten from pillar to post by the reigning Olympic gold medallists, as Tony Gustavsson opted to play an experimental starting lineup in Langford.
Gustavsson made clear his focus was “gaining a player” from the contest on Saturday afternoon (AEDT) – even if it came at the cost of a result – as they look to use this window as the last opportunity to test players ahead of their preparations for the Paris Olympics, which they’ll look to qualify for in February against Uzbekistan.
The Swede made wholesale changes for the match, handing debuts to former Sydney FC duo Sarah Hunter and Charlize Rule, while Alex Chidiac was straight into the XI – despite only being recalled to the squad days out from the match.
Remy Siemsen, Aivi Luik, Courtney Nevin, Teagan Micah, Amy Sayer and Clare Wheeler were also handed starting opportunities, along with Tameka Yallop and Polkinghorne.
Injured duo Sam Kerr and Mackenzie Arnold were withdrawn from the squad, while Mary Fowler, Ellie Carpenter, Caitlin Foord, Hayley Raso, Alanna Kennedy, Steph Catley, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Emily van Egmond and Katrina Gorry were among the substitutes.
It’s a similar approach Gustavsson has used throughout his reign, namely just over a year ago against now, world champions Spain in June last year – where they lost 7-0 – with the defeat to Canada being the biggest since said match.
Harper and Chapman debated Gustavsson’s tactics at the Starlight Stadium, with the former believing he hung the younger players out to dry who had little international experience in the first-half.
“Well, something was achieved: somehow we’ve managed to hang girls out to dry in the driving rain,” Harper said.
“I don’t know quite what was to be done here with this (approach). I feel for some of the individuals involved. It’s going to be a tough few days until they get the chance to get back on the training pitch. We’ve been there, we know what it’s like to be put under that duress and come up short – and when you come up short, you can’t wait for a chance to fix it.
“I don’t understand why we had to go down this path in this game. It was extraordinarily disappointing. We’re going to hear about managing loads and this, that and the other. I don’t understand why Clare Wheeler couldn’t have played next to Kyra Cooney-Cross, or Sarah Hunter couldn’t have played next to Katrina Gorry. Just have one part of the field, to give some sort of stability.
“Particularly for Sarah Hunter. What an enormous occasion it is to be called up for your first national team cap. Celebratory mood around Christine Sinclair, the Matildas skyrocketing in the charts. What a big occasion, and Sarah Hunter, just to talk about one youngster, you’re looking around the team and thinking: ‘How do we do this?’ And then (you’re) under enormous pressure.
“I’m just wondering what the experiment was for here in that first half?”
Former Matilda Chapman questioned why Gustavsson opted against keeping at least some experienced squad members in each of the defence, midfield and attack.
“I think in an ideal world you have one fresh player or one debutant in each line. When you’ve got three youngsters in the midfield, the way they play and the position they set up, it’s really difficult to actually show how talented these players are. There were certainly some stars in there, but we didn’t learn much today.
“I think we’ll see a different team come out next game. I expect a different team, because this is a proud Matildas squad, off the back of a phenomenal year. We want to see good performances and we want to see these youngsters get a chance. It will be nice to have them blended in a little bit more… we didn’t get it right today.”
“And another thing,” replied Harper, “I wanted to avoid this when I was talking about Sarah Hunter – this is not about the two debutants. This was about (having) three players with enormous experience: Aivi Luik, Clare Polkinghorne, Tameka Yallop on the way down in their international careers with the greatest of respects.
“They’ve been unbelievable servants to this team – but they’re more the history of this squad, not the future. Then everyone else around them is basically a cleanskin… against Canada, who are laced with extreme quality, and we’re going to experiment.
“What’s the hypothesis? What are you actually testing here? Are you testing the character to stand up to these people? How do we get them to play and show what they can do as individuals when it’s almost like cannon fodder.
“I’m getting very emotional with my language here, I don’t want to offend people – it might be too late for that – it’s just like cannon fodder.
“If this is an experimental two games to find out a couple of places for the Olympics, use the two games to experiment. If you’ve got to manage loads, which is the buzzword in professional sport at the moment, use the two games to mix and match.
“I’m still at a loss. This game has come, it’s gone, it will just be a 5-0 record in the history books and they’ll go on to play well next game because (Gustavsson) will play his first team. I just worry about the opportunity missed for some of these players, and for the team as it develops.”