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Three Burning Questions: Matildas friendlies v Denmark & Sweden

by Ben Somerford on Jun 10, 2021

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The Matildas return for the first time since their humiliating 5-0 and 5-2 defeats to the Netherlands and Germany in April in their final warm-up games prior to the Tokyo Olympics.

Time is of the essence now for Tony Gustavsson's side, who were afforded some leniency for April's results and performances after 396 days without an international game.

But the side used up a lot of credits in the bank and Gustavsson hasn’t started on the right foot.

The Swede insists results aren't the be-all and end-all at this point but he also conceded in his pre-match press conference that more heavy losses could impact the side's belief and identity.

The welcome addition of Ellie Carpenter, Steph Catley, Kyah Simon and Elise Kellond-Knight brings plenty of experience this time around, although their absences sincerely couldn't be blamed for the side's abject performances last time out.

The Matildas meet 16th ranked Denmark on Friday morning (2am AEST) in Horsens, followed by a more testing clash with in-form Sweden, ranked fifth in the world, on Wednesday morning (2:45am AEST).

GGArmy's Ben Somerford ponders three burning questions ahead of the pair of friendlies, with the Olympics less than 50 days away.

What do the Matildas want to get out of these games?
Friendlies are friendlies and people seldom refer to them years down the line. After all, what will define this Matildas' side is how they perform at the upcoming tournaments. But form in friendlies and warm-up games is usually indicative towards future performance, particularly with the Olympics so close.

April's defeats rang alarm bells too, so with lofty public expectations for the side in Tokyo and beyond, improvements are required and need to be seen urgently. From a simplistic results point of view, two defeats would be very worrying. A result against Denmark is the bare minimum. Sweden will be a tougher test.

From a performance point of view, drastic improvements will be desired with the Matildas looking disorganized and incohesive against the Dutch and Germans. The side struggled to string together more than three or four passes. That needs to change. Defensively, they didn’t appear to be on the same page. That needs to change. In attack, Sam Kerr's quality was quelled. That needs to change. Ticking those boxes will go a long way towards restoring belief and identity.

How do the Matildas utilize or capitalize on Kerr's quality?
There's no denying Kerr's ability at the elite level in women's football. She just won the Women's Super League Golden Boot and played in a UEFA Champions League final. But against the Netherlands and Germany, that level of performance was nowhere to be seen. She does get a lot better service at Chelsea than at international level, but that doesn’t explain that gulf.

In women's football circles, Kerr is widely known as the Matildas' star so both the Dutch and Germans put special attention into her in April, screening her and physically marking her out of the game. She was largely ineffective. Gustavsson acknowledged he needs to do a better job of bringing her into the game and utilizing her.

One of Kerr's chief avenues to goal is exploding in behind a defence with her pace and power. How often do you see her racing in on goal one-on-one? At the top level, this strategy isn’t always employable against opponents more tactically shrewd and physically capable. But she's also an aerial threat and winning territory will be important for that reason this time around.

Who makes the final cut for Tokyo?
While finding winning form and better performances is key to this camp, it will also form a critical part of Gustavsson's thinking around his final 18-player squad for Tokyo. Squad sizes are typically at 23 players for World Cups and Asian Cups, so the smaller group for the Olympics will create a squeeze.

Two goalkeepers will be selected, meaning only 16 outfield spots amid a busy schedule in Tokyo so Gustavsson has indicated that versatility will be central to his decision-making on the fringe players.

The core of the squad looks pretty clear, but the likes of Beattie Goad, Alex Chidiac, Aivi Luik and Mary Fowler are flexible types who may book their plane tickets with strong displays this week. Fowler is a huge talent but there's no shortage of talent in her position.

There's arguably some uncertainty in the heart of defence too, hence the call-up for 33-year-old Western Sydney Wanderers defender Caitlin Cooper, who may bump Laura Brock, Alanna Kennedy or Clare Polkinghorne. Chloe Logarzo is a notable absentee from this squad with a hip injury.