When you step into the limelight, the shadows in which to hide diminish.
Like many who witnessed Australia’s performance on Tuesday night against New Zealand, head coach Alen Stajcic was not pleased with what he saw.
The brutal truth was that the Matildas were sub-par. Not by the standard of other nations, but by their own standards set in the past 12 months. Head coach Alen Stajcic summed it up best.
“The expectations of our group are much higher. The game is the big exam.”
“It’s a good reality check for the group to know that if we drop our levels and drop our expectations anyone can compete in the top 20 of women’s football now. We have had a good run of six or seven matches in a row where we have played at a really high level and today was just that little bit lower.”
This is the new era for women’s football in Australia and for the players themselves. In the past year the player’s performances and results have seen a higher media profile for the team.
With greater exposure also comes higher scrutiny and this should be embraced. Instead of receiving a patronising “good try” or a metaphorical pat on the head, the Matildas are now analysed as a football team; not just a women’s football team.
It is part of the continued maturation of the women’s game in this country. However, it is not new for women’s football as a whole. The last decade has also seen increasing coverage across the globe and with it a greater inspection.
France’s national team has had to contend with harsh criticism following their continual inability to convert their aesthetically pleasing football style into tournament wins. England’s Lionesses were savaged in 2013 following a chastening group stage exit from Euro 2013.
While the current world champions USA were dogged by stinging critique prior and even during their eventually successful 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup campaign. Just recently AFC compatriots Japan also felt the media blowtorch after their disappointing AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifiers.
When greater expectations are not met, then questions are asked. USA midfielder Megan Rapinoe spoke about the handling shift in expectations when a team had previously remained under the radar.
“For me personally, we do have a lot of pressure on us from the outside media and fans, and I think that we welcome that in a way,” she said.
“For me pressure is something to be flattered by because people rate you, think that you deserve for them to scrutinize you and for them to think that anything less than the best is not good enough for your team. I welcome that pressure and welcome the media attention. I think it’s great for women’s football and we have really taken that on as a team.”
On Twitter a couple of weeks ago, an anonymous tweeter asked why the women’s team were immune from criticism. This week has proven they are not and nor should they be. The Socceroos also received their fair share on Tuesday night. However, criticism, objective or subjective, should be based upon fact.
It's never 100% smooth sailing but thanks for all those that supported us tonight @TheMatildas. We will build and refocus before Rio ????????
— Elise Kellond-Knight (@elise_kk8) June 7, 2016
Not the prettiest one tonight, the count down is on- 2months to go till Olympics! Thanks to all the supporters who came along to see us ????????
— Caitlin Foord (@CaitlinFoord) June 7, 2016
Wasn't the prettiest of games, but we keep working towards our goal! @TheMatildas ????
— Emily Van Egmond (@Em_surf) June 7, 2016
The fact on Tuesday night was the team didn’t play well and the other fact is that they can, and have, played significantly better.
Maybe it was the wake up call needed before Rio kicks off in less than two months time when a brighter set of lights shine on the Matildas.