Can the Matildas win the Women’s World Cup next year? From the evidence gleaned during Tony Gustavsson’s rocky tenure as coach, it seems like a long road – and as standards in women’s football are rising at an alarming rate, it’s likely to be longer and longer.
But the Swede, who has officially moved to Sydney full-time as the focus on the biggest football tournament this country has ever seen intensifies, believes anything is possible – as long as everyone inside and outside the team’s inner circle is committed believe.
That Ted Lasso-esque reply was part of a lengthy reply Gustavsson gave to a direct question about Australia’s chances at the World Cup, which he said was less than a year away. In other words, just five more FIFA international game windows, 32 meaningful days together and just 10 more “proper” training sessions with a full squad.
Saturday night’s clash against reigning Olympic champions Canada at Suncorp Stadium will be another good benchmark of how the Matildas measure up to the best in the world – even if both teams are missing a few key players. Gustavsson voluntarily presented his absentee list ahead of his Friday press conference, noting he would be in Brisbane without seven of his Tokyo 2020 starters: Ellie Carpenter, Hayley Raso, Steph Catley, Tameka Yallop, Chloe Logarzo, Caitlin Foord and Kyah Simon .
It felt like a way to temper external expectations, which he later explained differed from the team’s “belief” in what it could achieve. What’s clear is that Gustavsson is in dire need of a result, or at least some impressive performances, to convince fans and his growing base of critics to believe in his long-term plans, having won just eight of his 24 games at the top so far – the worst success rate for a coach since Chris Tanzey in 2000.
Asked 352 days before the final at Sydney’s Accor Stadium if Gustavsson thought the Matildas were capable of lifting that trophy, he said his focus was on making sure the team lived up to their potential that her “very aggressive” mindset values goals scored over clean hands and this time would show just how far that could take her.
“If you expect people to do something, you have to base the expectation on that [a] realistic measure, like a ranking or the quality of a team,” he said.
“But if you believe, that means you can achieve something that is more than what is expected of a team. And the one [that] What is certain is that I have this job because I believe in this team and I know the process we are in, the players believe in the process and also in this team.