With the squad announcement to face Spain and Portugal, Matildas manager Tony Gustavsson has shown that he is unafraid to take risks as he searches for the best team to win the World Cup. It is one of the least experienced international squads of Gustavsson’s tenure.
There is also a trust in the A-League Women’s players. Eight players are currently based in Australia, with Alex Chidiac, Remy Siemsen and Courtney Vine recently having completed moves abroad.It is an unfamiliar and slightly experimental looking Matildas squad.
How will they likely play against top class and match fit European opposition?
- The Matildas squad is filled with fast attack minded players
- Spain will look to dominate possession against Australia
- Even with a new look squad, Gustavsson has chosen some dangerous attacking options
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Guatavsson’s side may look experimental at a glance, but with 14 players from the previous camp against New Zealand it is not entirely light on experience. With six current or recent Sydney FC players in attack and midfield cohesion should not be a factor, even if the step up in standard might be.
Gustavsson has elected to go for pace and flexibility across the pitch. Against Spain in particular, the opposition will try to dominate possession. Pressuring the midfielders and pressing the defenders will be paramount to both creating chances and snuffing out danger.
In Angie Beard, he has chosen a very athletic defender who can play in a back three or four. In the 2021 friendly against Brazil, Beard showed that she was able to compete at international level. She is quick with and without the ball, not afraid of the physicality, and can join in attacks.
"I did a slide tackle on Marta 😳 It's insane. I love it. I was telling Polks, the feeling you get being out here is honestly indescribable."@HeyAngieBeard takes us through her once in a lifetime opportunity to defend against some Brazilian superstars.#AUSvBRA #WeAreMatildas— CommBank Matildas (@TheMatildas) October 28, 2021
Even following the injury to Ellie Carpenter, Gustavsson’s squad indicates that a back four will remain. This has been the system since the Tokyo Olympics. With Charlotte Grant on the right and Courtney Nevin or Beard on the left it is something all players will be familiar with.
Nevin has been in excellent form for Hammarby in Sweden. She has excelled under Gustavsson, and was pivotal for Melbourne Victory on their journey to a championship. She is likely to get the nod at fullback but can also move centrally.
Clare Polkinghorne looks a likely starter at centre back. What she may lack in pace, she more than makes up for in experience. Matilda McNamara is very similar in style to regular starter Alanna Kennedy. Polkinghorne’s experience should help the Adelaide United star adjust, and McNamara’s attributes should be easy for the veteran to work with.
It could theoretically be an all Sydney FC midfield. Rachel Lowe, Mackenzie Hawkesby and Taylor Ray join their former teammate and recent Hjørring Player of the Year Clare Wheeler.
Wheeler is likely to start, but Ray has been a player knocking on the door for senior selection for some time. Gustavsson will want to see what she can do at the top level. Defensive midfield is a key position for Australia. Another strong option there unlocks much of the midfield quality they have at their disposal not matter who else is in the side.
In more advanced roles, Gustavsson has some enticing options. Katrina Gorry was used as a six against New Zealand, but may be given a more free role in games where Australia may not dominate possession.
Alex Chidiac, Jacynta Galabadaarachchi, Lowe and Amy Sayer are all creative, clever players. Galabadaarachchi and Chidiac are both dangerous, inventive attackers who can play centrally or in wide areas. Chidiac is the most experienced and likely to start, but a combination of the two sounds like a ready made highlights package.
Mackenzie Hawkesby was one of the best midfielders in the A-League Women’s last season. She is both an attacking threat, an excellent passer and committed to winning the ball back. On paper, she will compete with Tameka Yallop for a starting role, but she has earned this call up through quality and consistency, Gustavsson has shown that he likes to use as much of his squad as possible.
Up front, there is serious pace. Emily Gielnik did not see any game time against New Zealand. She has been played as a center forward for Aston Villa, but has done her best work on the flank for Australia.
Gielnik is a handful for defenders. She is strong, explosive, tall and a confident finisher from any angle or distance.
Cortnee Vine will almost certainly start and definitely get game time. Against both sides, Australia may have to counter attack, and both Gielnik and Vine are hard to stop once they get goal side.
Princess Ibini’s call up is her first since 2018. She is a clever player off the ball. Her movement for Sydney FC on the left wing often opens up space for her fellow attackers. She is crucial to their game style with her defensive efforts. if she gets game time against Spain or Portugal she will need those skills, her cannon of a shot might also come in handy.
At center forward, Larissa Crummer has been recalled to the national team. She misfired in the early stages of Brisbane Roar’s season, but ended as their leading scorer. More than form, it is her searing pace and ability to hold up the ball that will be needed.
Remy Siemsen is perhaps the more clinical finisher, and has settled into European football quickly, but Crummer’s speed is important both from a pressing and counter attacking stand point.
The outfield squad looks inexperienced compared to the team that faced New Zealand, but in the absence of proven stars, Gustavsson has chosen players with the form, technical skills and physical attributes to compete. These will be fast paced games, Australia will need to win the ball, and play at speed when they get it.
In every third of the ground, they have players who are noticeably quick. In midfield, they have players who can create something out of nothing, up front they have power and pace.
Without possession, Australia will likely counterattack quickly, using the ability of Grant, Beard, Vine and Gielnik to get into dangerous positions.
For some of these players it will be the first and final chance to impress before the World Cup comes around. This is a surprising squad on the surface, but one filled with players that have earned the opportunity.
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