The Good, the Bad & the Ugly: Matildas v Germany & Netherlands

by Ben Somerford on Apr 15, 2021

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The Matildas haven't all of a sudden become a poor side but shipping 10 goals in two games three months out from the Tokyo Olympics is a significant concern for fans and coach Tony Gustavsson.

Australia's 5-2 and 5-0 losses to Germany and the Netherlands respectively were not the initiation Gustavsson, who was appointed six months ago, wanted in his first games in charge.

We shouldn’t forget Germany are the reigning Olympic gold medalists and the Dutch are the European champions, so they're top opposition.

It's also been a long time between camps for these Matildas, who last got together as the COVID-19 pandemic was emerging with games against China and Vietnam in February and March last year.

But the Germans and the Dutch were in a similar boat yet were far more cohesive and polished in comparison to the Matildas.

It must be noted, the Matildas included several players plying their trade in top European leagues as well, such as Chelsea's Sam Kerr who is teammates with Germany's Melanie Leupolz and Arsenal's Caitlin Foord who plays alongside gun Dutch forward Vivianne Miedema, so it's not as if the Aussies are short on top-level football.

Thus it's hard to put your finger on what's amiss within the Matildas ranks, although it's important we afford Gustavsson some time to digest it and get it right.

After all this is the first time the Swede has got the entire group together face-to-face to get to know them and vice versa, for them to truly get to know him, beyond introductions and small talk. That gelling of personalities, ideas and styles takes time and subtle maneuvering to ensure messaging and expectations are communicated in the most effective manner for on-field success.

Make no mistake, the two performances put out over the past week were below the standards fans and the coach would expect.

The Dutch loss was the Matildas' worst since 2008 and shipping five goals in consecutive games occurred for the first time in more than 25 years. Wake-up call? Maybe. Reality check? Perhaps.

The Good
I'll be frank, there wasn’t a lot to like. Emily Gielnik scoring twice against the Germans, where she previously plied her trade with Bayern Munich, was encouraging. But both goals came with the game dead and buried, netting in the final 10 minutes with Australia four goals behind, so enthusiasm is tempered to an extent on that front.

With Ellie Carpenter absent, Hayley Raso was forced into a makeshift right-back role where she offered some positivity with her runs up the flank.

It's always good to blood a few debutants too, with Indiah-Paige Riley, Dylan Holmes, Alexandra Huynh and Germany-based Beattie Goad getting opportunities, with the latter arguably looking the most capable at this level.

The Bad
Cohesion was a major issue for the Matildas. In fairness, pointing to the side's time apart is a fair response but there was a yawning gap when comparing Australia's connection to their opponents, who've faced similar challenges.

The Matildas struggled with their lack of time on the ball as their opposition hurriedly them throughout, forcing turnovers. They were visibly unable to string together passes. The lack of composure from Gustavsson's side was a major concern.

There's a level of rustiness associated with that given time apart, along with unfamiliarity with the new coach's style. But given this group has largely been playing in top European leagues for the past six months, it was a major worry that they seemed caught out by the pace and tempo.

Does that dent the confidence? Possibly but you'd hope this group are made of sterner stuff and learn from it. In essence, that's the key part of this entire exercise.

The Ugly
Australia's inability to maintain possession meant few chances up front for their talented forwards like Kerr, but it also put the backline under pressure. The Matildas' leaky defence has been a concern for the past few years, but it simply wilted under this level of quality opposition.

The Matildas defended chaotically, without system or an apparent plan to quell the Germans or the Dutch, whose talent and skill was allowed to shine.

Without wanting to individualise, there were glaring errors from debutant Holmes, goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold who was twice caught out against the Netherlands and a wayward pass from teenager Mary Fowler. Those mistakes aren't borne out of nothing. They're borne out of pressure.
And this side did not handle the pressure well at all.

Some say the first layer of defence is attack. But the truth is the first level of defence is a plan. And Gustavsson needs to get back to the drawing board to come up with a few plans which resonate with the players, otherwise the Matildas' Olympic medal aspirations will not be realized.

There's no honeymoon period now for Gustavsson. It's time to get to work.