The emergence of new talent and the addition of more high-quality friendly games under Tony Gustavsson have the Matildas better prepared for success at next week’s Women’s Asian Cup than they were for the Tokyo Olympics, according to experienced defender Alanna Kennedy.
- Australia are favourites to win their second Women’s Asian Cup after claiming the nation’s first title in 2010
- Defender Kennedy says the team’s rocky preparation, including friendlies against Brazil and the USA, has been beneficial for their overall progress
- The Matildas have lost the past two Asian Cup finals to Japan
Last August, the Matildas took their first major step under Gustavsson on the path to the home 2023 Women’s World Cup, making history by finishing fourth in Tokyo — the furthest any Australian team had progressed in an Olympic tournament.
They narrowly missed out on what could have been their first-ever medal with a 4-3 loss to the United States, who claimed the bronze.
Australia have played five friendlies since that tournament, including two matches on home soil against Brazil and reigning world champions USA.
Gustavsson has utilised those matches to inject new blood into Australia’s set-up, with fresh faces such as Remy Siemsen, Clare Wheeler, Courtney Nevin, Jessika Nash and Charlotte Grant all featuring under the Swede.
Despite winning just one of those post-Olympic friendlies, Kennedy says the whole squad is increasingly more in-tune with Gustavsson’s tactics and vision heading into this month’s continental championship in India.
The Matildas’ first and currently only Asian title came over a decade ago, but despite climbing up the world rankings since then, Australia have stumbled at the final hurdle in the past two tournaments, losing 1-0 to Japan in 2014 and 2018.
“It feels good. Obviously since the Olympics we’ve had a few players come in for experience and so we’re always looking to add to the team,” Kennedy said.
“That’s always good, but I think the thing that we’ve been doing as well is just continuing the same tactics and learnings that we had from that tournament.
“Definitely we’ve grown in a couple of areas since then.
“It’s been really good to have so many games and opportunities to learn more from [Gustavsson] and understand him more.
“He’s been here a while now and definitely settled in and we understand his way of coaching and the philosophy that he’s implemented here.
“We’re still building on a few things but definitely moving in the right direction and have a good understanding of what he wants from us as players.”
Amidst the fresh faces selected for the Women’s Asian Cup training camp, including three uncapped A-League Women players, Gustavsson has also coaxed back 36-year-old midfielder Aivi Luik.
The Matildas veteran announced her international retirement following the Olympics but accepted the call-up following a conversation with Gustavsson before the squad was announced earlier this month.
Kennedy had no idea Luik was set to make an international return but couldn’t be happier to be reunited with a player who was part of Australia’s 2010 Asian Cup-winning team, joining fellow veterans Sam Kerr, Kyah Simon, Lydia Williams, Tameka Yallop, and Clare Polkinghorne to hoist the nation’s first continental title.
“When we first heard it was [a surprise], but for us she’s a great addition to the group that we have here at the moment,” Kennedy said of Luik’s return.
“We’re really grateful that she took that opportunity as well.
“It just speaks to her character and how much she loves playing for her country as well. We’re really happy to have Aivi back here.”