The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: Matildas Cup of Nations

by Ben Somerford on Mar 08, 2019

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Finally the Matildas returned to on-field matters after the drawn out saga following coach Alen Stajcic’s shock dismissal. With the 2019 Women’s World Cup less than 100 days away, it was refreshing.

Ante Milicic’s first few games in charge brought success, lifting the Cup of Nations on home soil, although against Korea Republic (14th), New Zealand (19th) and Argentina (36th), anything less would’ve been a major worry.

The side scored nine goals and conceded one. Sam Kerr produced some individual brilliance, along with the in-form Emily Gielnik and the returning Hayley Raso.

So GGArmy’s Ben Somerford asks what did the tournament reveal with the Women’s World Cup looming large on the calendar now.


The Good
More than anything, the Cup of Nations served as an opportunity to move on from the Stajcic saga and lifting the trophy provided the tonic needed to begin to look forward. And that’s exactly what needs to happen with the World Cup so close. Now is the time to begin talking about which players will make the final 23, with numerous heading abroad to boost their chances by playing in Europe and the USA.

Having been handed the permanent captaincy, Kerr relished the role by netting three goals and producing an intensity which raised the standards for her teammates. It’s still early, but in light of January’s chaos, Kerr seems the right choice as a figure who does her talking on the field, and is diplomatic off it.

Raso’s return from a broken back was another major highlight, netting in the 2-0 win over New Zealand while Gielnik has one foot on the plane to France after translating her barnstorming W-League form into the international arena, even if I’m unconvinced she meant her goal against Korea. The way Gielnik spoke after that game about Milicic was a fantastic sign too, as he begins to earn the players respect.

The Bad
Even if Australia led at half-time in every game and scored within the first 10 minutes twice, Milicic described the side as “sluggish”. He articulated: “Very slow in our build-ups, shifting the ball, moving the opposition around, we were not decisive in our positioning.”

That sentiment was a theme also against the Koreans, who seldom let the Australians have time and space on the ball. The ability to handle that pressure is an issue moving forward, with midfielders too often opting to go backwards when the heat was applied.

Having the confidence to deal with pressure and beat an opponent opens up attacking possibilities but retreating does the opposite (even if sometimes it’s the right option) and knowing when to do either is a key learning for this side if they’re to challenge the best.

The Ugly
The Matildas only conceded one goal throughout the tournament, a class free-kick from Korea’s Chelsea star Ji So-Yun, but there remains some defensive naivety which will be exposed by the stronger sides in France. Of course, at times Milicic fielded a second-choice back four, so reinforcements will bolster the defence, but there are concerns.

Bottom-placed Argentina finished the tournament without a goal but had numerous opportunities against the Matildas, particularly exposing the flanks. Milicic has time on his side to fix these issues, but they only escaped punishment in this instance due to poor opposition finishing and the heroics of a select few, namely Steph Catley and goalkeepers Lydia Williams and Mackenzie Arnold.

Milicic only needs to look at the class on show at the concurrently played SheBelieves Cup in the USA, won by England and where Brazil finished with three defeats, to realise the improvements needed if we’re to go deep at the World Cup.