It’s arrived. The Matildas are in India.
We know the bar of this tournament is to win it. Few of us will accept much less without intense scrutiny. The pressure is on.
I do want to talk about the Matildas, but I have a different bone to pick first.
The 2018 Asian Cup was a blast. Tight matches, Thailand nearly broke our hearts and more or less level footing.
That tournament had eight teams.
India’s tournament is a 12 team competition.
I understand it’s a balance. We want nations like Indonesia, Philippines, China Taipei, Myanmar and Iran to play more matches. And definitely on the biggest stage. But is 10+ goal floggings the way to do this?
Over the summer I’ve had to get my head around the way athletics, cycling and woodchopping will use handicaps during some pretty major carnivals. The idea is to give everyone a level playing field.
I’m not advocating for a handicap to apply to soccer. But surely a level playing field is something that should see a different play-off system or seeding come in place. Throw the top four seeds in during the knockout phrase, a second group stage situation or simply what it was from 2008: Restrict the tournament to eight teams, so the best and most even teams can compete against one another.
I want to see nations who are developing their women’s football programs reach the highest stages, but it is to support and provide opportunities for these countries beyond being battering rams at “major” tournaments.
No-one needs a confidence knocking of a multiple digit loss.
To the game
Given the context that the Matildas were playing Indonesia in a tournament they’re expected to win, the mentality was good.
We set out with pretty close to, if not the, strongest starting XI. No punches were pulled, even the mass substitution event of half time didn’t simply replace all the experience with youngsters.
Sure, tournaments are about managing players, but given the need for confidence, this was a golden opportunity to give some of our regulars the chance to find their feet and dominate.
Dinner time has arrived
One thing that is a delight to announce is, we aren’t playing with our food anymore.
Past Matildas teams have held the ball deep, shuffled it side to side and haven’t looked interested in scoring.
There was every intention from the start to score as many goals as possible.
Not just from playing long balls, or relying on fullbacks’ overlapping runs. But from any and every avenue available.
Wheeler-ing my heart
Busy, tenacious and creative. Everything you want in a deeper lying midfielder, Clare Wheeler brought it. She was the least experienced player starting, and it would have been easy to start Yallop or Luik ahead of her. But what a joy to watch.
I would’ve argued before this point Wheeler deserves more matches at defensive midfield. This match only adds further wind to those sails.
A byproduct of Wheeler at defensive midfield is the freedom Emily Van Egmond had to move forward and get her creative on in the final third of the pitch. EVE serving up goals on a platter is only a positive thing for the Matildas.
It has to be mentioned. Sam Kerr. Not only did she reach and overtake Tim Cahill’s 49 international goals haul, but she did so in style.
She simply showed no mercy. Five goals and an early recess. Not bad.
I’ve stumbled on this photo since writing the above. It’s Iran celebrating after securing their first point at a major tournament in a nil-all draw to India.
Yes these moments matter. I won’t deny that. One of my major footballing memories is Thailand scoring their first World Cup goal and the absolute joy and celebration despite the 13-1 scoreline.
But I still stand by we need development, support and opportunity first.
Along with solid, long-term plans on how to expand tournaments like the Asian Cup and World Cup in a way where every team is competitive.
That doesn’t come from floggings.