Cup of Nations secured, now the real work starts for Matildas

first_imgWomen’s World Cup 2019 Read more Three games played, three games won. Nine goals scored, one goal conceded. But for an exceptional free-kick from player of the tournament, Korea Republic and Chelsea’s Ji So-yun, it would have been three clean sheets.No major injuries (although hearts were in mouths for a moment when Argentina’s Aldana Cometti barged heavily into Hayley Raso’s only recently mended back), and as promised from Ante Milicic to his squad, minutes for all 20 outfield players and a chance to press their case for World Cup selection. Share on WhatsApp Australia 3-0 Argentina: Cup of Nations – as it happened Share on Twitter Share on Pinterest Reuse this content Share on Messenger Women’s World Cup features Share on Facebook Matildas Women’s football Share on LinkedIn Share via Email Australia sport Topics From whatever angle you look at it, it’s hard to conclude anything other than that the Cup of Nations has been an unmitigated success for the Matildas, after the worst possible ructions over the preceding month.Tactically, there has been no major re-invention of the wheel under Milicic, with the former Socceroos assistant favouring a 4-3-3 system the Matildas were already familiar playing with under predecessor Alen Stajcic. But it’s through the incremental tinkering at the edges that the evolutions of the next few months will become evident.For a coach appointed just over a fortnight or so ago, this tournament was an important first step – but expect the real work to happen over the next 95 days until Australia’s opening Group C clash against Italy.“We’ve made a lot of steps in a short space of time,” Milicic said at the post-tournament press conference. “As a foundation, a starting point I’m more than pleased the way the last 10-11 days have gone.“It was not just about seeing the girls getting match minutes, but in a few different positions.”In isolation, the game against Argentina could be seen as a minor step backwards, and the coach expressed his slight disappointment post-game. After two promising showings against New Zealand and Korea the ball movement against Argentina was at times sluggish, the front-third and middle-third passing lacked cohesion – all criticisms you’d expect after a third game inside a week, and with nine changes made from Sunday’s 4-1 win.But evident inside the match was the micro-adjustments, the tinkering of a coach testing the depth and abilities of his squad. Players were played out of position, key cogs of the team such as Emily van Egmond were rested. Decisions like the one to push Elise Kellond-Knight further forward into a creative midfield role spoke to such experimentation.After the opening game against New Zealand, Milicic emphasised the importance of midfield movement, of “distances” and “angles” between players – the positional and mental tweaks needed to face forward and play with positivity.Importantly, the bravery and willingness to play (including out from the back) that typified Ange Postecoglou’s Socceroos was evident. But so too was a systemic balance that saw no overcommitments to attack, no premiums given to flair at the expense of discipline and collective defence.Nevertheless, concerns emerged. In the opening game of the 2015 World Cup, Australia were mercilessly exploited for a lack of pace out wide defensively by a USA side that went on to score five in a World Cup final. That at times the Matildas were exposed against less-fancied teams here playing a high line is a major work-on.The one-off friendly against the USA in three weeks’ time looms therefore as a development process as important as this entire Cup of Nations, with Milicic indicating staff will begin their tournament review and burn the candle at both ends to analyse the data and video to feed back new messages for the team ahead of that crucial test.Player loads will be measured, domestic league minutes and performances will be tracked – with special programs developed for those coming back from injury.“What we need to do now is work on our pre-World Cup camp, that’s a priority for us. We’re looking at games, timings, when players can come in, the ones that aren’t going to play in the US, or Europe, we need to work through those issues.”It is understood Milicic is pushing for a two to three week camp ahead of the World Cup, with one or two more competitive matches included there-in.The myriad of 1%-ers that his extensive backroom staff are hired to improve now become the focus and the challenge of the next three months. But the biggest hurdle – and one cleared in emphatic fashion at this tournament – is that the team is back together, working in the same direction, and playing with a smile on their faces.In the final minute of the final game of this tournament Caitlin Foord reminded us of what makes this incredible crop of athletes so special: the players themselves.Having converted the winning penalty, Foord wheeled away to reveal a dedication for teammate Caitlin Cooper, who’s father passed away this week. Cooper is unlikely to feature in France – but past teammates aren’t left behind.It’s the spirit, the commitment and the determination within the group that will determine whether or not Australia’s hopes can be realised in France. And for that, Milicic and his staff need only to be the best facilitators they can.Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure discussion remains on topics raised by the writer. Please be aware there may be a short delay in comments appearing on the site.last_img

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