Mind the gap: why ToN 2018 has Westfield Matildas on the verge of history

The adage of fine margins is ringing true for the Westfield Matildas in their Tournament of Nations fallout. Australia have ultimately come up short, but the gap to the USA has never been closer.

In the end, it was Lindsey Horan's last gasp equaliser that stood between Australia and back to back Tournament of Nations crowns.

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OPPONENT WATCH: USA win Tournament of Nations with win over Brazil

The American midfielder's 90th minute header in Connecticut will be the one pang of regret for Alen Stajcic's side.

It will be remembered as the tournament's defining moment: a devastating blow that saw the chances of an unprecedented double over USA slip away.

But the late heartbreak was also another flagship moment in the evolution of Stajcic's team. The 2018 Tournament of Nations won't be remembered for silverware, but it should go down as another huge stride forward.

What was once a chasm of difference between the two nations is now the closest it has ever been. USA ultimately sealed the tournament in comfortable fashion but their road in getting there was anything but.



All eyes to France

The Westfield Matildas may have come up short in the Tournament of Nations, but they have bigger fish to fry. Crucially, Australia have nailed their ambitions of winning their first ever World Cup to the mast.

 “We might not have come away with the Tournament of Nations trophy today but I saw resilience and courage from our Matildas side that all of Australia can be proud of,” Stajcic wrote in an exclusive column for Optus following their 2-0 win over Japan.

“But the bigger prize is in one year, at the Women’s World Cup in France – and there were positives, and negatives from this campaign for us to reflect on as we build towards that ultimate goal.”

The final picture for the big tournament isn't assembled as things stand, but all the materials are there for the Australian Head Coach to lead the team toward a maiden World Cup.

Key among this is Stajcic's process. The team might be headed by a global superstar in Sam Kerr but the side is still grounded in a blend of Aussie spirit and belief. More importantly, these intangibles work in tandem with the team's diligence and technique on the pitch.

KERR: I felt like I was 100kg... my legs were dying

Elise Kellond-Knight has been a shining example of this at the tournament. A nominal central midfielder, she filled in admirable at left back for the first two matches against Brazil and USA. Forward Hayley Raso also deserves an honourable mention after slotting into right back for the team's final match against Japan.

There’s still a mountain of work to get through before the World Cup. But the long, arduous road to France should be bolstered by the genuine belief that they can win it.

If the Tournament of Nations has been a dress rehearsal for the World Cup, then the Westfield Matildas have passed with flying colours. 

What's up next for the Westfield Matildas?


The climax of the National Women's Soccer League season will see several Australian players in contention for the American top flight title, before taking a deserved rest. 

Stajcic says the return of the Westfield W-League will take centre stage in the preparations for France 2019.

“Now, there will be a bit of reflection and analysis before we begin a very busy calendar; we should have some announcements for some more games at home and abroad for later this year, while we also get into the W-League, and begin planning the lead-in to France 2019, which will require looking at plenty of logistics based on where our players are playing and living for their club football across the globe," he said.

“That’s plenty to look forward to, but for now, we look back on a very productive tournament.

“We know we had some great support from back home. We always want to do as well as we can for ourselves, but we also realise the place this team has now got in the sporting and football landscape back home.”

“I think everyone in the team is pretty proud of the standing in the mainstream media and public and hopefully that translates into some good crowds in November.”

After the Westfield W-League 2018/19 season concludes there will be a new series of challenges for the side before they take on the world in June 2019.

Principal among them will be the shifting expectations around the side - who could enter the World Cup among the favourites.

It's a far cry from the underdog tag that has traditionally accompanied the team and will undoubtedly bring its own pressure.

One thing's for sure: Stajcic and the Westfield Matildas will relish the challenge.