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Tony Gustavsson Defends Matildas' Inexperienced Lineup Amid Backlash

 Tony Gustavsson Defends Matildas' Inexperienced Lineup Amid Backlash

Tony Gustavsson, head coach of the Matildas
 Tony Gustavsson, head coach of the Matildas (image - Getty images) 

 Australia's coach, Tony Gustavsson, has come to the defense of his decision to field a team of relatively inexperienced players against formidable opponents, following intense criticism in the wake of the Matildas' 5-0 defeat to Olympic champions Canada. The friendly match, held last Friday in Langford, British Columbia, marked Australia's most significant loss since their 7-0 defeat by Spain in June 2022.

Gustavsson faced backlash from the Australian media for selecting an experimental lineup against the Canadians. However, the Swedish coach argued that the long-term development of the players was the primary focus. During a press conference in Vancouver on Monday, Gustavsson addressed concerns about the fairness of exposing the players to such a challenging experience.

"Some people may question if it's fair to give the players this type of experience," he acknowledged. "But they love it. They want to play against top teams; they want to learn. As long as I ensure I create a safe space for them to gain this experience, it's what they need."

In addition to the challenge of facing a formidable opponent, Gustavsson had to contend with key absences due to injuries to captain Sam Kerr and first-choice goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold. The coach also opted to rest prominent players such as Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley, and Ellie Carpenter. However, he indicated plans to field a stronger lineup in the second match against Canada in Vancouver on Tuesday.

The upcoming match holds special significance as it marks Christine Sinclair's final international appearance. The BC Place stadium, where the game will be played, has been renamed Sinclair Place in honor of the 40-year-old Canadian striker, who holds the world record with 190 international goals.

Gustavsson expressed a desire to pay tribute to Sinclair before the game, emphasizing the players' eagerness to show respect. However, he stressed that the ultimate sign of respect during the match would be to compete fiercely, as that aligns with what Sinclair wants.

"Before the game, I hope that we can be a part of honoring her because she deserves that real respect. I know the players want to do it as well," Gustavsson stated. "But the best way to respect her once the game starts is to make it a proper game and really compete – because that's what she wants."

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