Matildas coach lauds second-half blitz as Caitlin Foord stars in win

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Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson is adamant the Mexico friendly delivered “a lot of answers” for their Olympics preparation as he heaped praise on an aggressive second-half performance.

Gustavsson took a conservative approach to his personnel in the 2-0 win in San Antonio but said he was pleased to experiment with different midfield and defensive combinations in the absence of injured stars Katrina Gorry and Clare Hunt.

He said the Matildas produced possibly the best attacking performance of his tenure during the second half despite it only yielding a single goal to Caitlin Foord in the 52nd minute.

Gustavsson said whether key players would return in time for Paris remained “a big question mark”, but he focused on trialling different formations rather than unearthing like-for-like swaps against Mexico.

He opted against starting in-form Everton midfielder Clare Wheeler despite saying she “deserved” the opportunity after impressing in the Matildas’ camp, bringing her on in the 62nd minute along with veteran defender Clare Polkinghorne and returning winger Cortnee Vine.

“Based on training, (Wheeler) would have deserved to start, she’s been very, very good in training, she comes from a lot of minutes at Everton, she’s in form,” Gustavsson said after the game.

“I talked to her this morning and it was pre-planned to get her minutes because she deserved it.

“And we wanted to look at a lot of different pairings in there, I think we had four different centre-midfield pairings that were looked at now – when Mini (Gorry) is away, we wanted to test it.”

Gustavsson said Mexico’s relentless high press in the first half-hour of the match was “exactly what we needed”, with Olympics group opponents Germany and USA both expected to employ a similar tactic.

“Their commitment, the pressing, the tactical awareness … they really threw a challenge at us in the first 30 minutes,” he said.

“That’s exactly what we needed – I said before this game we really wanted to test the limits tonight. We know Germany is going to come flying at us with pressing, we know the US is going to come flying at us with pressing – let’s test the limits.

“Now the next step is obviously can we now do this against a top-ranked opposition, which we haven’t tested yet.”

After using versatile newcomer Kaitlyn Torpey as a left-back in her third appearance, Gustavsson said continued to be impressed by her unflappable nature in a strong hint she would be one of the 18 picked to travel to Paris.

Torpey was shifted there after playing mostly as a right-winger in the Uzbekistan matches, but a starting spot opened up at left-back with skipper Steph Catley moved into Clare Hunt’s vacant central defensive role.

“Is the left side the best for (Torpey)? Maybe not, same with Charli (Grant) but both of them can manage the outside back positions, so we wanted to experiment with that as well,” Gustavsson said.

“I think Torpey, what I like is she’s very level-headed, she doesn’t freak out and get rattled by this environment, she’s just true to herself and very confident, calm and composed.

“I’m going to be honest to say it’s going to be very, very difficult for a new player to break into this roster.

“The injury situation is a big question mark, so I’ll just tell every player to be as good as they can, and be ready to knock on the door and make it difficult for me.”

FOORD SHINES IN ANOTHER TILLIES MASTERCLASS

The Matildas delivered a mature performance in testing conditions against Mexico but key questions remain unanswered over fringe squad members three months out from Paris.

Star forward Caitlin Foord orchestrated a 2-0 friendly victory in San Antonio on Wednesday as Australia looked fitter, stronger and more lethal than their world No. 31 opponents.

Foord set up the Matildas’ opening goal against the run of play in the ninth minute before she struck with a booming finish early in the second half which appeared to crush Mexico’s resistance.

The 29-year-old wove her way in from the left hand side before faking a shot with an exaggerated swivel of the hips, which gave her the space to fire a pinpoint shot into the bottom right corner.

Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson brought on Brisbane Roar forward Sharn Freier for a national debut in the dying moments but made no other significant moves, after starting Steph Catley in central defence and shifting Kaitlyn Torpey to left-back to cover for the injured Clare Hunt.

Gustavsson said there was doubt over Hunt and Katrina Gorry’s availability for Paris, but he refused to blood centre-back Winonah Heatley or start in-form Everton midfielder Clare Wheeler and instead stuck to known quantities at the level.

It means two games against China in six weeks’ time will be crucial to assess who should take the depth positions when Australia’s squad is slashed from 23 to 18 for Paris.

Veteran striker Michelle Heyman started and looked important to Australia’s structure as a target forward as she managed to play 62 minutes as the temperature topped 30C early in the game.

Torpey, who has emerged as an Olympics squad bolter after impressing across the pitch, got the nod ahead of Charli Grant to start at left-back, as Cortnee Vine returned to the side as a second-half substitute but missed an easy chance to score after great play by Emily van Egmond found her alone in the box.

RASO AGAINST THE TIDE

Mexico dictated proceedings early with an aggressive high press which regularly forced Australia to defend deep in its defensive third.

Mackenzie Arnold’s composure was tested with several adventurous Mexican attacks demanding quick thinking, but she was as cool-headed as ever and the Matildas made their opponents pay for not capitalising on the scoreboard.

Caitlin Foord got the Matildas their first genuine look at the goals with a classic winding run down the left, and her pass found Hayley Raso on the edge of the box.

Raso turned cleanly on the spot and put just enough heat on her shot into the bottom left corner to force an error from Mexican keeper Esthefanny Barreras for Australia’s first.

KYRA, THE DISTRIBUTOR

There was little experimenting from the Matildas in San Antonio but one new sight was Kyra Cooney-Cross dropping back to take goal kicks.

With Australia determined to play through Mexico’s press from the back, the midfielder played short passes to Arnold to give her a wider range of motion with the ball and more options to try and split the press.

The midfield without Katrina Gorry was tweaked slightly throughout the match – Emily van Egmond started deeper in Gorry’s absence but switched with Mary Fowler into a higher role after the first half-hour.

PARIS OPPONENTS LOCKED IN

The Matildas’ fourth Olympics group opponent was finalised on Wednesday with Zambia to join Germany and the USA after sealing a come from behind aggregate win over Morocco with an extra-time penalty in the final African qualifying game.

The “Copper Queens” are ranked 65th in the world but are emerging as a serious threat after qualifying for their first World Cup last year.

Gustavsson will have to plan carefully to stop superstar striker Barbra Banda, who scored twice in the 2-0 win over Morocco to secure a berth in Paris.

MEXICO 0

AUSTRALIA 2 (Raso 9, Foord 52)

CROWD 7163 at ToyotaField, San Antonio