The 7-0 hammering by Spain on the weekend could yet reap future benefits for Australian football, according to under-fire Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson.
An experimental Matildas team capitulated in the second half against the Women’s Euros-bound side, conceding six goals after the break, having largely contained their hosts during the first half in Huelva.
It led to Australia’s heaviest defeat in 25 years and prompted questions over Gustavsson’s decision to send out such an inexperienced side against one of the world’s best, with just a year to go before the World Cup on home soil.
But the Swede, who had defended his approach in the immediate aftermath of the game on Sunday morning, again backed his decisions when pressed on Tuesday ahead of another friendly, against Portugal.
“Sometimes a reality check, even if it hurts, can be healthy for the long term,” Gustavsson said. “Short term it hurts for all of us, including fans, media, stakeholders, federation, players, staff. But in the long run maybe that’s exactly what we need to realise exactly where we’re at and what we need to do.
“There’s a difference between expectations and belief. I will never ever stop believing in this team but we also need to be fair on what we can expect and at what time we can expect it.”
Against Spain, the Matildas were missing a host of regular starters, including captain Sam Kerr, and Gustavsson handed a debut to Jamilla Rankin in one of several half-time changes he made to personnel and tactics. He also gave a first international cap to Taylor Ray during the second half as the floodgates opened.
The Swede’s starting XI at the Estadio Nuevo Colombino boasted fewer than 500 caps between them, in contrast to almost 1,000 in the friendlies against New Zealand in April. Against the Football Ferns, the player with the least amount of caps – Mary Fowler – had 24 to her name; against Spain there were five players with fewer than 10.
Given that dearth of experience, and the quality of the side they were facing, Gustavasson said the result – Australia’s heaviest since falling to the US 9-1 in 1997 – came as little shock to him.
“Look at their scorelines and what they’ve done and then you look at what kind of team we were bringing, I’m actually surprised that people are surprised, because that is where we are,” he said. “We need to be OK to see the truth in the eye here and identify that and keep investing and believing and keep wanting to improve.”
When asked if some of the less experienced players might have been scarred by the result, he insisted they would be better for it.
“These are players that hate to lose but the environment that we have tried to create here is a very safe environment where it’s sometimes OK to fail as long as you take those experiences and want to get better,” he said.
“I think a couple of those players, whether it was a debutante or [one] playing with less caps are saying, ‘Ah OK, thank you for giving me that experience. Now I understand. I thought I understood but now I really understand what this is really about.’ And they can now go back and work on it.”
Gustavsson said he realised the result would increase scrutiny on him and his role with the national team, but with a World Cup campaign on the horizon he was more concerned with taking some benefits from the game.
“One, we can get an understanding internally and externally of where we’re at with the depth of roster in the Matildas as of now. The other one is to encourage these players who have now experienced this to know what it’s like.”
He added that he hoped these players would now challenge themselves to be prepared for the step up in quality the next time they were called into the Matildas squad.
Australia wrap up this international window with a game against world No 30 Portugal kicking off at 6am AEST on Wednesday.