Home Australia Matildas’ growing injury list exposes shallow pool of players to take advantage of

Matildas’ growing injury list exposes shallow pool of players to take advantage of

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Two members of the Matildas jump in the air for joy to celebrate a goal.

First came the injuries to Chloe Logarzo, Lydia Williams and Charlie Rule, and we didn’t talk about it because they hadn’t played for the Matildas for a while anyway.

Then they came for Katrina Gorry, Clare Hunt and Courtney Nevin, and we didn’t talk because they were replaced by Sharn Frier, Winonah Heatley and Emily Gielnik, and perhaps Wednesday’s friendly against Mexico could be used to test other players?

Then they came for Aivi Luik, and we didn’t talk because surely seven injuries would be enough for a single international window and the universe cannot be that cruel.

Sam Kerr will already miss the Paris Olympics due to injury. Will Emily Gielnik follow him?(AAP: James Elsby)

Then they came for Gielnik. The player who had been called up as an injury replacement and had only been in camp for a week. And now speaking has become a matter of urgency.

With less than three months until the Paris Olympics and just one more national team camp scheduled for late May against China, the Matildas’ recent influx of injuries has become less of a flashing red light and more of a siren. that moans and moans.

This sentiment is not new to long-time Matildas fans. Team depth has been a source of anxiety for several years, and Football Australia admitted as much in its 2020 Performance Gap Report showing that Australia had, at the time, one of the most superficial national teams in international women’s football, with a much greater jump for fringe or emerging players into the core team than many other comparable national teams.

Closing this gap and creating depth in the team has been one of coach Tony Gustavsson’s two main responsibilities since taking over at the end of 2020 (in addition to progressing as far as possible in the major tournaments).

Players such as Clare Hunt, Mackenzie Arnold, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Charlie Grant, Cortnee Vine, Amy Sayer, Michelle Heyman, Clare Wheeler and Katrina Gorry have been discovered or revitalized under Gustavsson, with two fourth-place finishes at the Tokyo Olympics. and last year’s World Cup prove it.

But the group of players below the Matildas (i.e. those developing at A-League Women level) are still struggling to catch up, going through their own growing pains as the domestic competition winds down. lengthens and becomes professional.

However, whether it is moving fast enough to keep up with the standards now required of international-level actors is a more pressing question as today’s leading actors age and their bodies become less resilient.

Cortnee Vine, wearing a yellow shirt and green shorts (her Matildas uniform), takes the winning penalty against France.

Cortnee Vine was plucked from the A-League Women and has become a Matildas regular. But she is an exception to the rule.(Getty Images: Justin Setterfield)

Australia is not the only team facing such a depth crisis exposed by injuries.

Several teams that have qualified for this year’s Games are experiencing similar problems, and while the exact causes and consequences of their respective injuries are as varied as the injuries themselves, the common denominator is that, in recent years, these best World-class players have been playing more football for their clubs and countries with fewer opportunities to rest in between.

According to research by FIFPro, the global players’ union, one of the biggest problems facing the future of women’s football is the global match calendar: the puzzle of how local, regional and international competitions are assembled into something resembling a annual calendar. schedule.

Increasingly, more governing bodies want to include more competitions (and therefore more commercial opportunities) in this calendar, such as UEFA introducing the Women’s Nations League, or the AFC restarting its Women’s Club Championship last year.

However, this has happened so quickly that players who started out as amateurs or semi-professionals and were rarely given the resources to develop from a young age have suddenly found themselves thrust into football full-time.

The last two years in particular have shown that these players are now struggling to keep up with the increasing demands placed on their minds and bodies as they travel from country to country and competition to competition, without really being able to decide when or Where are they going. .

The problem becomes particularly acute during major tournaments like the World Cups and the Olympic Games, where matches are scheduled within limited three-week periods, giving players only a few days to rest and recover before playing their next game. match that could define the trophy.

On May 17, the FIFA Congress is expected to announce what the international women’s football calendar will look like from 2026.

Increasingly, top players and coaches across women’s football are speaking out about the unsatisfactory nature of the current calendar, which FIFA introduced unilaterally and with little consultation with the players who would be most affected by it.

“Everything is done backwards when we do the calendar,” England captain Leah Williamson, who missed the World Cup due to an ACL injury, said earlier this year.

“I’ve been to some of these meetings and listened to the process and I still don’t understand how, when something is wrong, it’s not taken as seriously.

“It’s black and white. It’s not the only cause of all these injuries, but it’s 100 percent one of the main reasons.

“When FIFA, UEFA and all the main people do the scheduling, it should always be rest first. As a professional athlete, to be able to perform throughout the year, you must have four weeks of rest at the end of the season and six weeks preseason, so as not to harm your health.

“But at the end of the World Cup, some of the girls came back and had five days off. Five days after reaching the final.”

The snowball continues to fall down the mountain. At this year’s Olympics, Australia, which is drawn in Group B with Germany, the United States and either Zambia or Morocco, will play at least three tough matches in the seven days allotted for the group stage.

A Matildas defender rushes to pressure an American player who quickly pushes the ball away.

The Matildas will face the United States again in the group stage of the Olympic Games, just as they did in Tokyo.(Getty Images: Cameron Spencer)

If the Matildas advance to the last 16, they will have just three days to prepare for the quarter-final, with the semi-final taking place three days later.

Whichever team makes it to the finals will have the luxury of four days of rest before competing for a gold medal.

It’s exhausting just thinking about it, let alone being one of the 18 players (including two goaltenders, meaning 16 outfielders) who are chosen on the final tournament team.

And even then, not all players are guaranteed significant minutes in a tournament where chemistry and on-field combinations are crucial to success.

During the World Cup, for example, Gustavsson was criticized for starting virtually the same 11 players for five consecutive games, while allowing only scattered minutes to others in the 23-player squad.

“We have had a clear strategy and I know that there are opinions in this room about it, which I think is fair because I like those types of debates: whether players should be rotated in a tournament, whether there should be continuity in the tournament “. lineup,” he said after Australia’s semi-final loss to England.

“I think you saw in the [Tokyo] Olympic Games and I think you have already seen it, we have followed a strategy in which we believe that the relationship and continuity in the tournaments is key.

“It’s a strategy we believe in, but the availability of the players will be key in that sense: how much do they physically have in their tank? [and] who starts.

“The base and the core will be what we think is best to win the game.”

So what about Paris? Or, more specifically, WHO from Paris?

With a smaller team logically requiring more rotation and versatility, and with the current list of injured players growing longer, will strategy have to change for the Matildas to keep their medal hopes alive?

Who will Gustavsson turn to as he looks to fill the gaps created by players who have become crucial to Australia’s way of playing?

Will you improvise and adjust your tactics and strategies to account for what could be unexpected changes in personnel?

Or do you move forward with what you have and hope that those who are currently sidelined will come back when you need them?

A game against Mexico in Texas on Wednesday and two games against China next month are the only chances we have left to find out.

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