Tony Gustavsson’s line in the sand moment

When the Matildas kick off their game against Olympic gold medalists Canada in Brisbane on Saturday, there will be just 320 days until the start of the 2023 Women’s World Cup.

Whether 10 months and 17 days is a long period of time or too short a window is all a matter of perspective.

With eight wins from 24 matches, the oft-cited statistic since Tony Gustavsson took over as head coach, Australian fans desperately need reassurance that their national side are on course for Cup glory. of the world – and lately the days seem to be ticking away. too fast.

The 7-0 punch in June that Matildas (admittedly understaffed) suffered at the hands of a world No. 8-ranked Spanish side, did little to allay the public’s fear of a failure at home next July but, with the return of the regular stars, this two-game friendly series against a somewhat developing Canadian side presents the perfect opportunity to restore faith.

After the luxury of 18 months experimenting with different combinations, including the blood of 17 newbies, Gustavsson’s self-proclaimed ‘line in the sand’ means the pressure is now on to find some consistency with a core group.

By contrast, the World Cup preparation phase is just beginning for Canadian coach Bev Priestman after her side recently secured qualification by progressing through the group stage of the CONCACAF W Championship 2022 in July.

Priestman included 18 players from that squad, which eventually finished runners-up to the United States in Mexico, but she pointed to some notable absences that created opportunity for others to impress in that window.

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“I think so far from the World Cup it makes sense to use this to assess new players in the environment,” Priestman said after announcing his team.

Currently 7th in the FIFA women’s rankings, the Canadians will be without Deanne Rose, Vanessa Gilles and Jayde Rivière (injuries), as well as Ashley Lawrence (personal reasons) and goalkeeper Steph Labbe, who retired in April .

The rock-solid defense that has become a hallmark of the Canadian women is put to the test in the absence of Lawrence, Rivière and Gilles, who together with Kadeisha Buchanan formed a formidable backline at the CONCACAF W Championship, conceding only once in five games.

Even if the Aussies execute the plan to break through a revamped Canadian defence, however, they will still have to get past Kailen Sheridan, who took over the retired Labbe’s gloves with aplomb, earning himself the Golden Glove award as the tournament’s best goalkeeper. . in Mexico.

The CONCACAF W Tournament also proved the team have options at the other end of the pitch besides the ever-green Christine Sinclair, who will be looking for her 191st goal when she heads down Under for a 316th cap. Jessie Fleming – a teammate of Sam Kerr at Chelsea – scored three of the team’s 12 goals as she shared Golden Boot honors with fellow Juventus midfielder Julia Grosso.

As well as testing new suits on the park, Priestman also noted the benefit of experiencing the conditions Canada will face when they travel to the World Cup next year, including extensive travel and jet lag. .

In this window, that travel lag will still be a familiar feeling for the majority of Matildas, with only Cortnee Vine and Larissa Crummer based locally.

Newly-signed Aston Villa striker Emily Gielnik also joined camp on Monday, but the rest of the overseas contingent were unable to travel until their weekend commitments were completed, meaning Gustavsson’s first session with the full team was on Wednesday.

Kerr has returned from a fourth straight Women’s Ballon d’Or nomination, with fans hoping to see the talismanic striker’s goal celebrated at home after it was immortalized on signage at Chelsea’s Stamford Bridge stadium.

While Hayley Raso’s late withdrawal saw her replaced by Princess Ibini on Monday, the balance of the squad remains unchanged and the team’s formation is eagerly awaited as watchful Matildas watchers search for a clue on which is in Gustavsson’s final plans.

The competition for the gloves is fierce with Lydia Williams, Teagan Micah and Mackenzie Arnold all hoping to be the last to stand between the sticks when the goalie merry-go-round comes to a halt.

With an Ellie Carpenter-sized hole still in the baseline, Charli Grant has shown she has many similar traits with her stamina and forward runs and may have another opportunity to cement herself in a defense that sees Steph Catley and Alanna Kennedy return after being rested. for the June window.

Chloe Logarzo’s quick recovery from a torn ACL in September has earned her a place in the fold, and while she’s unlikely to see many minutes, if any (having just returned to competitive football), Gustavsson said he cared about her. to “see the playbook”.

The midfield composition in this playbook will be a key insight into his long-term game plan, and here the Swede is spoiled for choice. Even without Logarzo (and the experienced Elise Kellond-Knight, who has also just returned to the courts in Sweden after a long spell out of competition), there is no shortage of talent in the middle of the park with Emily van Egmond, Aivi Luik, Mary Fowler , Tameka Yallop, Kyra Cooney-Cross and a completely rejuvenated Katrina Gorry are just a few of the options available.

Whichever 11 players get the nod against Canada this weekend, the Matildas faithful are clamoring for some momentum, confident no doubt that with some consistency Australia can match the England women’s recent feat and lift a trophy at home.

England head coach Sarina Wiegman gave a masterclass in the power of consistency as she guided the Lionesses to their famous victory at the Women’s European Championships.

The Dutchman, who was named UEFA Women’s Coach of the Year and has 18 wins in 20 games in charge of England, has deployed the exact same starting XI for every match in the tournament, even when the result was purely academic – the first coach in Euros history to do so (men or women).

It’s a scenario not unlike when she took the Netherlands to Euro glory on home soil in 2017, when they used just 13 players throughout the tournament. The result? The players understood their role and that of those around them, the substitutes knew their impact and their value, and everyone knew their responsibility within the team.

So how long did she need to prepare?

Wiegman had just 308 days between signing as England head coach and the start of the Euros – so from that perspective, 320 days of preparation until the Cup kicks off of the women’s world, it’s a long time for the Matildas, but the time to start is now.

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