Milicic: Westfield Matildas prepared for anything as Vietnam looms
Complacency is a word that doesn’t exist in the Westfield Matildas vocabulary as they prepare for next month’s home-and-away Olympic play-off against Vietnam.
Ante Milicic’s squad take on the world no.32 Vietnam over two legs in March, with the winner of the tie booking their ticket to the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.
Australia host the first leg in Newcastle on Friday, March 6 (kick-off 6.30pm), before the return match in Quảng Ninh Province five days later.
After topping their group in the last round of qualifying, the Westfield Matildas are warm favourites to be one of the AFC’s three representatives in Tokyo.
But speaking on Fox Sports News on Wednesday night, Milicic admitted his squad was prepared for anything against the emerging Vietnam side.
“They are a team that’s improved in the last couple of years, technically very good. From the footage we’ve seen more recently they will set up in a defensive mid-block, they will look to frustrate us and maybe catch us on the counter attack,” Milicic said on Fox Sports News.
“So it’s important we stick to our playing style and game plan, we have to be patient and we have to wait for the right opportunities.
“The first leg being at home, it’s very important we do well, we don’t concede and we look to convert the chances we create.
“We know it will be a difficult opponent but at the same time we focus on ourselves, the girls will be well prepared and confident in front of what’s starting to look like a good crowd in Newcastle, we put on a good performance because the girls love playing at home and it’s an opportunity for the Australian public to come and see a good game.”
ULTIMATE GUIDE: Westfield Matildas two games away from Tokyo Olympic Games
Australian Women’s football on rapid rise
Thanks to the success of the Westfield Matildas and a growing Westfield W-League, women’s football in Australia has enjoyed a period of sustained growth.
Record crowds have come out to support the Westfield Matildas playing on home soil and we’re now seeing a host of Australia’s top players being recruited by Europe’s biggest clubs.
Skipper Sam Kerr has moved to Chelsea, Caitlin Foord is at Arsenal, while the likes of Chloe Logarzo (Bristol City), Hayley Raso (Everton), Emily Gielnik (Bayern Munich), Alex Chidiac (Atletico Madrid) and Mary Fowler (Montpellier) are all playing abroad.
Asked where women’s football is at right now, Milicic said: “It’s in a great space because it’s a serious sport now.
“There’s a clear pathway for now for young Australian girls to have a career out of the game. There’s no better time to be a footballer than now.
“The game is growing on a global scale but at a rapid rate, so it’s improved a lot, particularly in Europe where the investment has been huge, not only with national teams but the domestic league.
“For our girls who have gone for many years between the American league and the W-League, this gives them a different perspective.
“In some ways it gets them out of their comfort zone this is where they are going to get a lot of learning and understand different ways of playing the game, formations, culture and travel.
“So with having Emily Gielnik in Germany, we’ve got four girls in England now so there’s a lot going on for them and will only enhance the national team going forward.”
Van Egmond the 'Great'
One of the stars of the Westfield Matildas’ success in the previous round of the Women’s Olympic Football Qualifying Tournament was playmaker Emily van Egmond.
The Melbourne City midfielder started the tournament with three assists in the win over Chinese Taipei, before netting a hat-trick in the demolition of Thailand.
But arguably her biggest contribution came in the final group match against China, with her sensational last-gasp goal earning the Westfield Matildas a 1-1 draw and top spot in the group.
“She’s been great. The intention all along has been to play her further up the field in a more attacking advanced role,” Milicic said of van Egmond.
“She’s been excellent, not only scoring goals but assists as well. She’s getting involved in the game, she’s very comfortable with her technique and she’s patient in those positions.
“She’s got a lot of her teammates at Melbourne City [in the team] so the relationships are there inside the games. I’m really happy with the way she’s been going.
“In the end to score that vital goal for us at the death against China, she really deserved that. But that’s the kind of character she is, she’s a winner, she keeps on going, the girls refused to lose and we were delighted in the end.”
Women’s Olympic Football Tournament Play-Off
Australia v Vietnam (Home Leg)
Date: Friday, 6 March 2020
Kick-off: 6.30pm AEDT
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia
Broadcast: Live on FOX SPORTS, Kayo Sports, ABC iview (delayed on ABC TV) and the My Football Live App
The match will also be streamed LIVE on YouTube for viewers outside of Australia and Vietnam
Vietnam v Australia (Away Leg)
Date: Wednesday, 11 March 2020
Kick-off: 6.00pm local; 10pm AEDT
Venue: Cẩm Phả Stadium, Cẩm Phả, Quảng Ninh Province, Vietnam