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How coach’s tough love has the Matildas smelling rare air of quarter-finals

Tony Gustavsson’s tough-love approach is coming to the fore, with the Matildas enjoying an enviable record against top-ranked opposition as the Women’s World Cup opens up in front of them.

 

Sam Kerr of Australia embraces Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson after defeating Denmark in the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 Round of 16 (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

Sam Kerr of Australia embraces Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson after defeating Denmark in the FIFA Women's World Cup 2023 Round of 16 (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

A lack of big results against top opponents, and especially European teams, had consistently been the biggest criticism of Australia, currently ranked No.10, in recent years.

A comfortable 2-0 win over Denmark in Monday night’s round of 16 sealed a quarter-final berth for just the second time in their history.

The Matildas ended seventh-ranked Canada’s World Cup with their 4-0 group stage win, adding to their list of recent scalps.

Of those top-ranked teams left, Australia has enjoyed a 4-0 thrashing of Sweden (No.3), a 2-0 win over England (No.4), a 1-0 defeat of France (No.5) and a 3-2 win over Spain (No.6).

It’s a long way from the 5-2 loss to Germany and 5-0 defeat to the Netherlands that marked the start of Gustavsson’s tenure two years ago.

“We’ve made a pretty big statement with our performances recently and we know we have to keep that standard. Now we’ve set the benchmark and just keep building on that,” forward Caitlin Foord said.

Australia haven’t faced the Netherlands or Japan since the first year of Gustavsson’s tenure in 2021 – and both teams are in the other side of the draw.

World No.1 and reigning champions the United States and world No.2 Germany have already crashed out, along with eighth-ranked Brazil.

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“Over the last two and a half years, my mantra was always talking about getting one day better and not just one day older and investing every single day to get better,” Gustavsson said.

“All that investment that we’ve done, I think helped tremendously in all the challenges that have been thrown at this team from MD-1 when the tournament started against Ireland and everything we’ve gone through and the way we’ve handled it.

“For me, body language is important, when you see this team play out there and how they play for each other and you see how united they are and the togetherness. That for me says a lot about the team’s wellbeing.

“I think that has helped us through some tough challenges in this tournament.

“That shows some maturity in the team as well in terms of how to play tournament football.”

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