Catley: "It's amazing what these players can do, to come into a setup and still make an impact."

CommBank Matildas head coach Tony Gustavsson and current captain, Steph Catley spoke to media today ahead of the team's final Olympic Qualifying match against Uzbekistan at Marvel Stadium tomorrow night.

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After a 3-0 victory away from home over the weekend, Gustavsson and Catley shared their excitement to be back down under.

"It's amazing to be back here," Gustavsson said. "Steph and I walked off the field and spoke about some great memories we'd had here, so it sparked a lot of energy... I can imagine it's going to be a really good vibe at Marvel Stadium and that energy is going to carry the players through some tired legs as well."

Catley echoed her coach, "We absolutely love coming back to Australia. Every time we're playing here at the moment, we're getting massive crowds and like Tony said, that gives us a lot of energy," she said.

"The fact that we got a good result in Uzbekistan and can come here and just play some good football in front of a great crowd, we're really looking forward to it."

Catley was asked how she felt about leading the team in the absence of Sam Kerr, reassuring media that Kerr was still very much contributing to the squad.

"I think I'm still very much leaning on Sam," she said. "Sam's very much involved in a lot of the decision-making, is an incredible leader and someone that's very, very important to this team. 

"I did say to her right at the beginning (when Kerr injured her ACL) if she ever feels like it's too much, having to focus so much on her injury and getting back, she's more than welcome to step away," Catley continued.

"But she cares about this team. So much. So she's definitely very much on top of everything and it's nice to have her there.

"We've got many wonderful leaders in the team, this team is so experienced, so there are lots of different people stepping up in different areas."

After travelling from snowy Tashkent to sunny Melbourne, Gustavsson was asked how the team acclimatises to the varying conditions.

Stephanie Catley of Australia looks on during the AFC Women's Paris 2024 Olympic Qualifier Round 3 match between Uzbekistan and Australia Matildas at Milliy Stadium on February 24, 2024 in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. (Photo by Tolib Kosimov/Getty Images)

"This group has shown over the years that they are tremendous professionals in terms of taking care of themselves," he said.

"We spoke about needing to be the best travelers in the world in terms of knowing how to travel, whether that is nutrition or refueling, whether it's compression pants, stretching protocol or jetlag protocol. 

"There's never going to be an optimal circumstance when you fly that much or you have jet lag and the different temperatures and such, but I know one thing, and that is these players never complain, no matter what's thrown at them, they go out there and give it 100."

With only 22 players able to be selected for Paris 2024, Gustavsson spoke about the difficulties of whittling down such a strong team.

"I can admit it's the toughest part of the coaching job, to have to select players, especially when you're that emotionally invested in a group of people for so long," he shared.

"It's my fourth year now and I love this team so to have to say to someone that actually deserves to be there, that there's no spot for you. 

"I had three major tournaments before this, and it's going to be the toughest one because the competition for spots is so great right now. We've built depth over the years so there are more players that are good enough and deserve to be in the roster.

"When it comes to the selection process, there's always going to be a core group of players going into a major tournament. They understand the tactics, the values, the culture, the chemistry. So it's not always the best players, it's the best team," he explained.

Catley also spoke about how that chemistry can be challenged, but ultimately strengthened with the introduction of new or returning players.

"It can be difficult. We have a great consistency in this team and lot of us have played together for a long, long time, so sometimes it can be challenging when a new player comes in," she said.

"You get so used to playing with someone else, used to their movements and the way that they play, but I think it's a credit to the players that have come in, that straightaway at training they've been at an incredible level. Technically, tactically, they've taken in everything that we do as a team and put that into practice straightaway. 

"I think if you look at Kaitlyn Torpey coming in for her first camp, she did great on the field and fitted in really well. And then Michelle (Heyman) coming off the bench after so many years and not being part of it. It's an absolute credit to them and what they're able to do on and off the field. 

"It can be a challenge. But I think it's amazing what they can do as players to come into a setup and still make an impact and not disturb what's already there."

Australia v Uzbekistan
Date: Wednesday, 28 February 2024
Kick-off: 8.00 pm AEDT
Venue: Marvel Stadium, Melbourne, Victoria
Broadcast: Live from 7.30 pm AEDT on 10, 10 Bold in Perth, 10 Play and Paramount+.