Gustavsson on legacy and making the right decisions for player wellbeing

It was a tough night for our CommBank Matildas who went down 7-0 to a dominant Spanish side in Huelva. Post-match, head coach Tony Gustavsson spoke to media about the challenges of blooding a predominately new side against a world-class opponent and why he has no regrets.

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"I'm actually really happy and proud of the girls' commitment, effort and defending in the first half," he said.

"When you play Spain, sometimes you're forced to defend in a very, very different way than what you're are used to and I think we responded with a good mix of high-pressing sequences and tough pressing, and then the low block patience defending.

I think in the first 45, Spain struggled to play through and we forced them to play in front of us and outside of us, so that if they did get into our goal zone, it had to be from the wide areas, because they don't like to play crosses," Gustavsson continued.

"We said we need to define the goal zone with pride and put our bodies at stake by blocking shots, duels. I think in the first half, you saw Spain playing a lot of these diagonals over the midfield and the backline, which we had identified. I think we came away lucky a couple of times, a couple of times it was offside when they didn't call it but we managed those pieces well in the first half, but struggled with it in the second half."

Gustavsson called out recently returned mum, Katrina Gorry and Sydney FC's Cortnee Vine for their performances.

"Mini (Gorry) was world-class, she showed that she has the technique and tactical ability to match any player in Spain with her physicality and her tackling.

"Cortnee Vine was playing in an unusual role as a wingback, but she showed, especially when she gets forward on the field and uses her speed, her technique and her confidence, that she can match up with with the best players in the world," he said.

MATCH REPORT: Spaniards reign victorious over fresh-faced Matildas side

"If she can get into an environment where she is forced to play faster and make more decisions, and I'm not criticizing the environment she's in, I'm actually looking at how they can be the toughest possible environment to develop in between national team camps."

Gustavsson spoke about the several changes he made in the second half, explaining his reasoning behind the decison.

"In the second half, we looked at other things, we wanted to rotate players, look at players," he explained. 

"I want to be very clear, that this is not about blaming this loss on an individual player. These players are representing the situation we're in right now, with four players playing in the NPL and one player playing in college, and expecting those individual players to match up against Spain. It's not fair to the individual.

"But, I am ready to take that hit as a coach because I said that from day one that we need answers and we need investments in our program. This half showed very, very clearly where we need to make investments and that (our new) players need to get to  an environment where they can thrive and be ready for international football."

When asked if Gustavsson would've preferred to blood his new players against a lower-ranked opponent and have his usual CommBank Matildas squad available, the manager was candid in his response.

"I'm always honest and when we planned this (match window), we planned to have our best team. We wanted to match our best team against one of the best teams who were especially peaking for the Euros," he shared.

"One of the few windows you can play the best European teams in this year, was the week before the Euros because they had World Cup qualifiers and there were very few times to actually match up against them this year. It was difficult to find and schedule tough games and this was one of the windows we could.

"I would have loved to have had our best team here, of course, but at the end of the day, we need to have a player-centric approach and look at the wellbeing and the long-term process going into the World Cup and that means we need to make the right decision for the players," he continued.

"We can't sit here and regret and I could sit here and protect myself and say hey, we had a weaker team, that's why we lost, but we needed to make a decision and stand by it.

"These answers are not short-term, especially not for me, but it's not about me and whether I'm going to be scrutinised, it's about the long-term, Legacy 23 and beyond. It's not just preparation for the World Cup, it's also about future investments and the answers we got tonight are a wake-up call for a lot of people."


Portugal v Australia  
Date: Tuesday, 28 June (local) / Wednesday, 29 June (AUS)  
Time: 9.00pm (local) / 6.00am (AEST)  
Venue: Estádio António Coimbra da Mota, Estoril  
Broadcast: Network 10, 10 Play and Paramount+