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The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: Matildas v Denmark & Sweden

by Ben Somerford on Jun 16, 2021

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The Matildas completed their competitive preparations for the Tokyo Olympics with a 3-2 loss to world number 16 Denmark and a 0-0 draw with in-form fifth-ranked Sweden this week.

Australia's Olympics campaign commences on July 21 against New Zealand in Tokyo, which is five weeks away to the day.

The pressure was on for improved performances and a result or two in Scandinavia after 5-0 and 5-2 defeats to highly-ranked pair the Netherlands and Germany in coach Tony Gustavsson's first two games in charge in April.

The Matildas avoided losing four consecutive games for the first time since 2008, but expectations are much higher than that nowadays.

So did this week's friendlies do enough to enthuse about their Tokyo prospects? GGArmy's Ben Somerford takes a look.

The Good
The Matildas had conceded 13 goals in three games under Tony Gustavsson heading into Tuesday's friendly with Sweden, so a clean sheet was welcome. In fact, Australia's defensive issues have plagued the side for some time, dating back to the 2019 Women's World Cup.

Employing a back three, Gustavsson's side seemed more assured against Sweden, shielded by Tameka Yallop and Emily van Egmond. Alanna Kennedy's introduction at half-time allowed Steph Catley to push further forward too. The side still had some scary moments, but there were some clear positives with the formation and a more defensive mindset against a strong opponent, like by the dependable Clare Polkinghorne. On the flipside, the fact that the Matildas failed to score down the other end against the Swedish may have been a byproduct, but it's something to build upon.

Debutant Teagan Micah may have booked her ticket on the plane for Tokyo too, with an assured display against Sweden compared to Mackenzie Arnold in the race to be Lydia Williams' deputy.

Kyah Simon, Hayley Raso, Ellie Carpenter and debutant Kyra Cooney-Cross all impressed, while it was pleasing to see Catley back in the international arena, showing few concerns from her recent injury issues.

The Bad
With just over a month until the Tokyo Olympics, the Matildas will be sweating on Sam Kerr's injury status, having been replaced late in the Sweden draw. Kerr received medical attention on her right quad – which was already strapped - before walking off in the 74th minute.

At this stage no insight on Kerr's injury was offered from within the Matildas camp but she'll obviously be a key part of the side's Tokyo campaign and Gustavsson will need her fully fit and fresh after a long club season with Chelsea where they reached the UEFA Champions League final.

Otherwise, Kerr had a solid pair of friendlies, although she seemed isolated at times, with her shot into the crossbar against Sweden coming with only herself inside the box compared to seven Swedish players. She was busy early against Denmark, unable to convert two early chances before the Matildas conceding three goals in 10 chaotic minutes.

The Ugly
Indeed, those 10 minutes against Denmark were the major concern to come out of the two friendlies. After conceding 10 goals against Germany and the Netherlands in Gustavsson's first two games in charge, being 3-0 down inside 25 minutes was worrying. But arguably the Matildas deserved better.

But you don't always get what you deserve at international level and the side's inability to stem the bleeding was the chief concern.

All three goals were relatively comical. The opener came from a hopeful set-piece where Australia were under-represented at the back post. The second goal came from a corner where Arnold was crowded and too slow to react. The 27-year-old West Ham keeper's confidence appeared shot when she fluffed a nothing cross into the box for the third. All three goals were avoidable.

Without being too negative, lazy wayward passing deep in midfield or defence remain a concern too. There were a handful of examples from the two games. In saying all that (and not wanting to finish on a low note), Australia fought their way back against Denmark and got two goals late once the game was settled.

Overall the performances were markedly better than that dished up in April, so there's reason for optimism. But I, for one, am cool on the Matildas' medal hopes for now.