The Matildas’ approach to international tournaments is wrong and jeopardising our future generations

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The decisions made so far in the Matildas’ AFC Asian Cup campaign are symptomatic of a problematic mindset which may compromise the future of Australian women’s football.

On Friday night, the Matildas won 18-0 against a hapless Indonesia to open their Asian Cup campaign.

Sam Kerr scored five goals as part of a highly experienced Matildas team including the likes of Alanna Kennedy, Clare Polkinghorne, Steph Catley, and Caitlin Foord.

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These players are firmly established, international-calibre performers, with each of them having at least 80 caps already for the Matildas.

Unfortunately, the decision to play these players in a severe mismatch against Indonesia is indicative of a failure to consider the long-term future of women’s football in Australia.

All of these choices are made in the shadow of the looming 2023 Women’s World Cup to be played in Australia and New Zealand.

The Asian Cup is in and of itself a major international tournament and winning it would add further to the lore of this current Matildas team.

However, viewing the tournament in isolation from next year would be short-sighted; just about every decision Matildas-related over the next 18 months will be scrutinised for how it affects the World Cup.

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Undoubtedly, the opportunity to host one of the biggest tournaments in world sport brings with it unending excitement about what can be achieved for the growth of women’s sport and football in this country.

For many, it is the payoff following decades of tireless work striving to establish a place for women’s sport, and particularly women’s football, in the Australian sporting mainstream.

However, viewing the tournament in this way has the potential to undermine the long-term, sustainable development of appropriate infrastructure to support women’s football for future generations.

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Following the game against Indonesia, Georgia Yeoman-Dale was scathing in her criticism of coach Tony Gustavsson’s team selection, pointing out the opportunity to play young players in the squad like Cortnee Vine and Remy Siemsen.

Whilst Holly McNamara featured and Clare Wheeler played the entire match, the hesitance to promote inexperienced, uncapped players is damaging the future of the sport.

Such a problematic mindset was evident from the squad selection heading into the Asian Cup, as the likes of Aivi Luik and Polkinghorne were selected ahead of Winonah Heatley and Karly Roestbakken.

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Whether these decisions are solely viewed in the context of the Asian Cup or with an eye on next year, the point remains that greater focus must be placed on the consequences of today’s actions for the future of women’s football in this country.

Of course, several generational talents currently occupy positions in the Matildas team.

Playing in major international tournaments, especially next year’s World Cup, with such a talented squad creates an extraordinary opportunity to capture the hearts and minds of the Australian public with on-field success.

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Over the last year, however, Australian football fans have witnessed first-hand the strength of rival nations like Sweden, the USA and Canada. China, Japan and South Korea are similarly formidable in the current tournament.

As good as the current Matildas team is, the performances of the side over the last year, for example at the Olympics, have reinforced the fact that success at major international tournaments is difficult to achieve.

Therefore, prioritising the existing squad of Matildas is a high-risk strategy.

Even if success could be guaranteed though, a large portion of this would be undermined if domestically Australia fails to adequately develop the women’s game.

Australia is running the risk of misusing the power of mainstream media by refusing to look at the future beyond next year’s World Cup.

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There isn’t even a full domestic A-League Women’s season, yet our minds are being drawn to the potential fanfare of a World Cup final or trophy.

Multiple competitive pathways into professional football must exist for girls in Australia.

Aspiring women’s footballers need to have confidence that there is the support, finance and sustainability to justify a commitment to playing professional football.

The Matildas have an opportunity to make football one of the premier sports in Australia over the coming decades, not just when it comes to international tournaments but as a year-round, domestic source of sporting entertainment.

The spike in interest in women’s football is inevitable when hosting the World Cup, regardless of how the Matildas perform.

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Therefore, the approach to the Asian Cup, and by extension the World Cup, must cement the futures of the next generation of talented Australian footballers.

The benefits of World Cup success are undermined if we can’t back that up with investment in the young people that would be inspired by it.

As it stands, much like deciding to play experienced Matildas over blooding youngsters in the Asian Cup, the mindset of short-term success at the expense of long-term sustainability may well come back to haunt Australian football post-World Cup.

We all need to remember that the fight to secure the future of football in Australia, particularly for women, will continue well beyond 2023.

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Oscar Rutherford
Sports tragic studying Law/Arts at Monash University. Second-best paid Oscar working in football who has been to China.

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