Sunday 10 July 2011, 23:23

Mixed emotions for ambitious Matildas

Following their 3-1 defeat by Sweden, Australia head home with a distinct feeling of what might have been, given the Matildas’ ambition at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011.

Although not widely considered one of the favourites to win the tournament, both the coaching staff and players were aiming for glory in Germany, but the dream ended with their quarter-final defeat to the Scandinavians in Augsburg.

“We’re definitely proud of where we’ve come from and what we’ve achieved,” captain Melissa Barbieri told “We’re still very disappointed and I think that just goes to show where we are as a team that we’re not just happy to be here at a quarter-finals.

“We really were striving to make the semi-finals and then the final. We definitely think we could have really made a mark on the tournament.”

We really were striving to make the semi-finals and then the final. We definitely think we could have really made a mark on the tournament.

Ultimately it was unexpected errors which cost Australia, with Kim Carroll’s back-pass – which allowed Sweden forward Lotta Schelin to finish the tie – the lowest point of a disappointing defensive display. Coach Tom Sermanni echoed Barbieri’s comments, but admitted that such mistakes must be eradicated if the Matildas are to progress and achieve their goals.

“I think myself and the players are very disappointed by the manner in which we’ve given up goals, which ultimately has cost us,” he explained. “I don’t put today’s stuff or the other things down to experience. Our players have played international matches, they’ve played matches in difficult environments and they’ve played highly-pressured games, and they’ve come through.

“They came through well today but ultimately the difference in the game was a basic, simple error. If you have a structural issue, you can go on the training field and work on it. When players make simple errors, what can you do?”

Optimistic for the future There is, however, cause for optimism in this young Australia squad, which reached a second consecutive FIFA Women’s World Cup quarter-final. In a difficult Group D, Sermanni’s side pushed Brazil close in a 1-0 defeat before overcoming Equatorial Guinea and, vitally, Norway to ensure their passage to the knockout stages.

The Matildas’ short-term focus will now switch to qualifying for the 2012 London Olympics, while further in the future they will look to build on this experience for the next edition of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada in 2015.

Goalkeeper Barbieri added: “We’re looking to stay together. We’ve got a big group of players back home and hopefully we’ll make the Olympics and make sure we continue the success of the team. We want to build experience and grow as a team. By no means is this the pinnacle. We’ve got so much more to evolve and grow as a team.”

They will make their attempt to reach London 2012 in September this year, facing off against five other Asian teams in the battle for two qualifications spots. Playing at the Olympics would be further experience for young stars such as forward Kyah Simon, who struck an important double against the Norwegians, and full-back Ellyse Perry, who scored a wonderful goal in the game against Sweden.

Strong attributes bode well Sermanni revealed that the progress of his younger players was one of his personal highlights of this tournament. “I think my highlight of the tournament has been seeing players like Caitlin Foord, and seeing Kyah Simon score two goals, and seeing some of our players step up into this level and mature as the tournament has gone on,” he said.

Barbieri was quick to praise her team’s “never-say-die” attitude, and Sermanni agreed. “There’s no one individual thing that stands out, but I suppose if there was it would be the comeback against Norway,” the 57-year-old added.

“You look at all the games and apart from England against New Zealand, no other team had come back from being behind over 90 minutes. So I think that’s a highlight because it shows that this team, as well as ability, has character and determination and tenacity.”

Those attributes will stand the Matildas in good stead come Canada 2015 and with four more years of experience under their belt, they may well be right among the favourites next time around.

If Barbieri’s parting words are anything to go by, they certainly will: “We make sure we use up every minute of the match, going for as many minutes as you need to get a result. If the opposition are going to beat us, they’re going to have to beat us for the whole entire time.”