OK, so the first real big interview I’ve got to do here on my site. It’s probably the sweetest I’ve done anywhere to be honest. There aren’t many people who can pull out phrases as classic and ‘ocker’ as myself, but Rae Dower is definitely on a level above me (I’m working my way up ok).
Anyhow, I had the absolute pleasure of getting to chat with the Junior Matildas Head Coach ahead of their Asian Cup qualifications in Laos. I had so much fun doing this. There’s too much to put into one post, so I’ve split this into two parts. One is “on the field”, while the other is “off the field”. Both are delightful. Here’s the first.
ON THE FIELD
On Playing against Myanmar
We’ve had a four day camp at the Gold Coast, where we played two International Friendly matches against Myanmar. They’re hosting the other group in this age group qualification around the same time as ours. Myanmar play in the Asian style, passing with combinations very, very quickly and working aggressively with their press. It was great preparation for us and certainly what we’re going to come up against [in Laos]. I believe it was a little historic too and were the first international matches that the Junior Matilda’s have ever hosted on home soil.
It’s invaluable to have international competition in our own backyard. We’ve been able to learn in a match environment, under that match pressure. The girls generally have to play against the boys to find a suitable enough intensity of game to really challenge them. So, playing against girls who are trying to do exactly the same thing for their own country, at their own tournament, means they can really get the benefits of playing against like minded players and very good skillful, athletic players in Myanmar.
Approach at Kyrgyzstan
In the first round of qualifiers we didn’t really get pressed at all. The girls were quite comfortable in playing out and pretty much had controlled possession high up the park. It was more working on how to break down really deep, compact defensive structures.
We worked on how to play against this quite a lot in the lead up and it was quite successful for us. One of the ways to break down a deep low lying, compact block is to be able to get in and around in behind teams. Moving as a team to one side, shifting the defence over, then breaking quickly to switch the point of attack, trying to get in around and attack from wide areas. We played some really good football there and were able to do that scoring 39 goals in 4 games and conceding none.
Approach to Laos
Now is a different story, where we’re up against a different style, against the next level of opponent. We obviously need to be a lot smarter in how we look to play out. We’re going to face a fair bit more pressure from our opponents and at times we’ll need to probably be a little more direct and play to where the free space is. The girls all play this type of structure domestically, so it’s about switching them back on and giving them a lot of different options, a lot of different tools to do so. When it comes to game day, it’s about finding the best solution for themselves at the time.
As developing young players, we’re really trying to educate them and give them all the tools to make the right decisions. Decision making is so important and especially for young players, you want to be able to let them have the self belief to back themselves at the critical moments in the game. To back themselves and their ability and know that they’re going to make some mistakes here and there but that is where the learning comes from.
Conceding Goals and Defence
One good thing from the game against Myanmar is now we’ve had shots against us and we’ve actually conceded a goal, so that monkey’s off our back. We don’t have to worry about that in tournament mode, in terms of this side not knowing what to expect or know mentally when the team concedes a goal how they’re going to react…they’ve experienced that now and we’ve learned from that.
We’ve had some great match analysis sessions with the players since. We want to instill different ways for them to open up and communicate with each other. One of the main aspects is that you’ve got to be able to know when’s the right time…deciding between the opportunities to play out, to drive through and dribble. I think that they’ve got to pick the moments to do those things and take the right opportunity to do that…once again, it comes back to decision making and being comfortable to make the decision.
On the ballers in the side (AKA all of the Junior Matildas)
I thought in the game on Friday night, in our first game in particular and in large parts on Sunday night, we were very, very good in the middle third. Our combination play was extremely good and we scored some great team goals. That’s something we’ve worked on a lot. The girls obviously like combining, they like showing off their skill and flair. There’s a lot of very, very skilled players in this cohort. Our depth is increasing all the time. We’ve got at least 60 players in this age cohort that we’ve looked at really closely. It’s really pleasing to see there’s some really naturally gifted players and they’re very exciting on the ball.
They want to be on the ball.
It’s just about finding the moment to dribble into that space or look to combine and play to a teammate.
(Both photos by Jen Willmott)