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Three Burning Questions: Matildas v Vietnam

by Ben Somerford on Mar 06, 2020

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For all the speculation around postponing the 2020 Olympics amid coronavirus and toilet paper hysteria, our Matildas return to action on Friday chasing a ticket to Tokyo.

The world number seven Matildas host 32nd ranked Vietnam on Friday night in Newcastle in the first leg, before the return leg in Cam Pha on Wednesday.

Australia are the hot favourites. The gulf in rankings is clear for all to see.

Australia also boast a dominant history against Vietnam, winning all seven meetings, with 37 goals scored and none conceded.

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But nothing has been simple lately for the Matildas and with so much at stake, tension is in the air. GGArmy’s Ben Somerford asks three burning questions ahead of the tie.

Can the Matildas overcome the expected ‘park-the-bus’ approach?
Australia are only playing Vietnam thanks to Emily van Egmond’s last-gasp goal against China rescued a draw to secure top spot in the qualifying group. Prior to that, the Matildas had dominated possession against a deep-lying Chinese outfit who had frustrated their opponents and scored on the counter-attack.

The Matildas encountered similar problems against a defensive opponent in the recent past, which is what they can expect from Vietnam. Matildas coach Ante Milicic said: “It’ll be one where we need to remain patient at all times.” He expects the Vietnamese to defend deep and utilize their skill and pace on the flanks to counter when Australia are vulnerable.

Australia are expected to win this tie. And they’re expected to get off to a dominant start on home turf, so this match is crucial to put the tie to bed. The nerves may creep in the longer Vietnam hold them at bay. So can the Matildas be patient enough to overcome the parked bus? Given their recent record against similarly-ranked opponents, I think they will. The next question is how big an advantage can they build in Newcastle?

Will the Europe-based quartet be impacted by their long haul travel?
Chelsea’s Sam Kerr and Arsenal’s Caitlin Foord faced off in the Continental Cup final on Sunday in England. Kerr’s Chelsea were victorious and likely enjoyed the celebrations that evening, before the Matildas skipper journeyed back alongside Foord to Australia earlier this week.

Likewise Bayern Munich’s Emily Gielnik and Bristol City’s Chloe Logarzo have made the cross-global trip back too. Given the quartet are all relatively new to European club football, the long-haul travel (which comes only a few weeks after their last trip to Australia for last month’s qualifiers in Sydney) may be racking up the frequent flyer points but it’ll take some physical toll as they adjust to the demands.

Kerr’s form since joining Chelsea has been solid but not her blistering best, with the goals not flowing yet, although she played a major part in her side’s winner on Sunday. That’s a slight concern.

In my opinion, I expect they’ll all still provide good output, but the impact on conditioning is real. Don’t be surprised to see any of them replaced early in the second half, hopefully when we’re a few goals up. Others will need to pick up the slack, but I don’t think Milicic will be allowing it as an excuse.

Will the coronavirus discussion affect the team’s performances?
There’s no doubt that athletes and coaches have spent time thinking about the impact of coronavirus, given they’re ultimate goal is to qualify for the 2020 Olympics when there’s talk about the cancelling or re-scheduling the Tokyo event due to the COVID-19 outbreak in China. After all, Japan’s J.League has been postponed for now.

Likewise the venue of the second leg in Cam Pha in Vietnam’s north-east is barely 125 kilometres from the Chinese border, which is hardly a travel destination on many people’s minds right now. It’s worth noting there’s fewer reported cases of coronavirus in Vietnam than Australia but the proximity to China is something which will have crossed the players and coaches’ minds, as much as they’ll deny it. The reality is they simply need to trust the authorities to manage that threat.

You’d be naïve to think the coronavirus discussion hasn’t crossed the players’ minds, but as Kyah Simon said: “All we have to do is worry about our job.” Unless the team manager hasn’t adequately stockpiled toilet paper, I don’t expect it to be an issue in Australia but the return leg will bring unique challenges, particularly around the logistics of travel, plus anxieties around leaving the team hotel and where to eat. Vietnam may be safe, but as an elite high performance unit with so much at stake, their approach will be risk averse in Cam Pha.

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