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  • Writer's pictureThomas Pombart

Matildas' slow starts now compounding their disastrous defensive woes

Two nightmare starts for the Matildas against the USA saw them slump to a 3-0 loss in Sydney, then a 1-1 draw in front of a packed-out Newcastle crowd.

The Matildas conceded within the first five minutes of both matches. (Tom Pombart)

Slow starts had the Matildas on the back foot from the get-go in the mini-series.

On both occasions, they were punished by striker Ashley Hatch, conceding after 24 seconds in Sydney and then four minutes into the Newcastle fixture.

It is causing massive headaches for Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson.

Gustavsson cannot guide the side to clean sheets regularly.

Conceding cheap goals within five minutes in consecutive matches is the last thing he needs right now.

Fine-tuning the defence has been a persistent issue.

Being without his trusted defensive partnership of Claire Polkinghorne and Alana Kennedy did not help this problem.

The pair are two experienced defenders.

You would imagine that not having their presence against such quality opposition and in front of two big crowds had an impact.

Their experience could have helped Australia set the tone with more aggression early on and a safety-first approach on the ball to not concede any sloppy goals.

Unfortunately, with 17-year-old Jessika Nash and 19-year-old Courtney Nevin, the Matildas lacked experience in a vital area and paid the ultimate price.

These matches have highlighted a lack of defensive depth when key players such as Polkinghorne and Kennedy are absent.

That does not mean that Nash and Nevin won't grow into fine defenders, but the occasion was too big for them this time around.

But as a unit, the Matildas also have a significant problem producing quality moments in possession.

Over both matches, they never looked 100% comfortable when playing out from the back or under considerable pressure in attacking situations.

Australian fans can take a closer look beyond that to find further issues.

Whether it is Polkinghorne, Kennedy, or whoever, the Matildas have been struggling, conceding 24 goals across ten games, averaging out to an appalling rate of conceding 2.4 goals per game.

Since his appointment in 2020, Gustavsson has only been able to mastermind three wins as Matildas' coach, with a 3-1 win over Brazil in a friendly and two wins at the most recent Olympics.

Perhaps the messages that Gustavsson is voicing to his squad are not getting across, and that is a worrying sign, with the daunting task of competing for the Asian Cup in 2022 on the horizon.

The Swedish manager will hope to fix this squad's obvious defensive issues in time for their first match against Indonesia, before a blockbuster clash against former Matildas head coach Alen Stajcic and the Philippines.

That tournament is still far away, and Gustavsson still has time to rectify this issue.

But the Matildas missed a perfect opportunity to show progress over these two games.

Now there will be little opportunity to test themselves against such quality opponents again.


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