Who were the most unfortunate Matildas excluded from the Tokyo 2021 Olympic Games squad?
Matildas’ coach Tony Gustavsson’s new system has at times left us wondering who would make the Tokyo squad. However, in the end, there were few surprises on who missed out.
Gustavsson’s squad overall is pretty straightforward. He has largely chosen experience and proven ability, including several players who were up until recently recovering from injury and still trying to find form.
Most of his announced squad was largely expected. There have been a number of surprise exclusions though.
Perhaps the player who is the most unfortunate is goalkeeping alternate, Mackenzie Arnold. She had been the Matildas’ second choice goalkeeper for a number of years, with Lydia Williams retaining her number one spot.
However, during the last few matches Gustavsson gave Arnold the chance to prove herself. The West Ham United keeper was in goals for the 5-0 loss to the Netherlands and 3-2 loss to Denmark. One of the Danish goals was caused by her goalkeeping error and registered as an own goal.
While Arnold has had some outstanding performances club wise in the last year, including a two penalty save game against Manchester City where the scoreline remained 1-0 largely due to her efforts, she was also had some shaky times. Perhaps the worse was her being on the losing side of a 9-1 drubbing by Arsenal.
Meanwhile, Teagan Micah has long been the number three Matildas keeper. Called into camps for the last number of years, she only received her first cap in the latest match against Sweden. She proved she was up to the task.
Micah has also had a very good year club-wise. She is playing her second year in the Norwegian Toppserien, and has only allowed only two goals to slip into her currently third ranked Sandviken team’s net.
This impressive performance follows a season with Melbourne City that saw her win the W-League goalkeeper of the year award.
Still, most would have expected the more experienced Arnold to be one of the two main goalkeepers and Micah to be the alternate, especially considering that Williams is coming off a season that started with injury.
However, it appears that Gustavsson has picked form over experience. Restricted to two goalkeepers in the main squad, Arnold is the one who has lost out.
Another alternate which one could have seen in the final side is Laura Brock. Brock spent the last year with French Division 1 side Guingamp and was a regular starter with her club who finished fifth in the French league.
However, Gustavsson chose to bring Aivi Luik as a main team defender over Brock. Luik is a defensive midfielder by trade and has only recently converted to centre back in the last year due to injuries at her club Sevilla. She has shown capable of playing both positions at a high level.
At 36, Luik is the oldest Matilda ever to play for Australia. She is also coming off a thirty-one game season.
Due to the shortened time between matches and the gruelling games, Australia will arguably have in the group stage, one could have envisioned Gustavsson questioning her long term tournament robustness.
However, Luik is known for her stamina, which was one of the things mentioned when she won Player of the Match against the Dutch in April.
With the recent very effective three at the back formation Gustavsson utilised in the Sweden match, and the versatility that Luik brings by being able to play in midfield or defence, she is arguably a more useful player than Brock.
Still, it is a pity for the Melbourne-born Brock. A foot injury just prior to the last world cup resulted in her replacement from the squad. She did stay with the team for the tournament, at her own expense.
It looks like Tokyo will be the second tournament where Brock will have to observe the Matildas from the periphery.
Defender Beattie Goad was also a surprise exclusion as an alternate, especially considering Charlotte Grant’s inclusion.
While Goad’s season at German Bundesliga side Meppen was not the greatest, due to the team’s general poor form, the young defender was a regular starter in her first season overseas. She also featured three times for Australia, receiving her first cap under Gustavsson’s regime.
Meanwhile, Grant, who had a strong season with Adelaide United, has been riding the bench at her current side FC Rosengård. She has registered a total of 10 minutes in nine matches. She also rode the bench twice for the Matildas and has yet to be capped.
It is therefore surprising to see Grant included, especially over Goad whom has seen international and club play of late.
Grant must have done something to impress Gustavsson in camp for him to bring her to Tokyo as an alternate, but not try her in either of the most recent friendly matches.
Some may be disappointed to see Matildas veteran Lisa De Vanna as neither a main team or alternate player. However, a closer look at her performances over the last few seasons would find this unsurprising.
Since the last Olympics, held five years ago, she has scored seven goals in twenty-two international matches and fourteen goals in sixty-two club matches. Arguably, an average of just over four goals a year is not enough for an international striker.
Now this isn’t to say that De Vanna does not still have it in her to perform. She won the 2020/21 W-League Goal of the Year for an incredible near full pitch run in the Melbourne derby earlier this year.
De Vanna also hasn’t been completely excluded in the Gustavsson era. He held a Women’s Talent Identification Camp in early May for Australian based players which De Vanna attended.
However, the reality for De Vanna is there are just too many other Australians who have broken through and shown better and more consistent form in recent years, including a number of periphery who also didn’t make the cut.
These periphery players are notable to mention. Seasoned players Emma Checker, Caitlin Cooper, Alexandra Huynh, Amy Harrison and Ella Mastrantonio have all been brought in during the Gustavsson period. However, in all their cases they have yet to break into the starting line-up.
Young players Karly Roestbakken, Dylan Holmes, Alex Chidiac, Indiah Paige-Riley and Amy Sayer have also been around the Matildas set up of late. All are young Aussie players with tremendous talent and the ability to be the future of the Matildas.
However, for this tournament, more in form Mary Fowler and Kyra Cooney-Cross and alternates Courtney Nevin and Charlotte Grant, are the young Olympic debutants.