Simi Awujo.
Simi Awujo (26) was one of four Canadian goalscorers in the 5-0 thrashing of the Matildas. Image by AP PHOTO
  • soccer

Inexperienced Matildas thrashed 5-0 by Canada

Anna Harrington December 2, 2023

Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson has defended fielding an experimental and inexperienced starting line-up in a brutal 5-0 loss to Canada as a necessary part of building depth.

But he will turn to his strongest possible line-up in four days’ time for the second game of the friendly series, after Australia suffered their heaviest defeat since the 7-0 humiliation to Spain in June 2022.

Nichelle Prince scored a first-half brace, in the 10th and 43rd minutes, with Cloe Lacasse netting in the 49th, Simi Awujo icing the game six minutes later and Adriana Leon completing the rout in the 62nd.

Gustavsson had promised an experimental line-up for the first friendly, determined to test young and fringe players ahead of February’s final Olympic qualifiers, while looking after overloaded senior players.

No players who started the 4-0 Women’s World Cup win over Canada were named in the line-up.

Sam Kerr and Mackenzie Arnold were out injured while Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley, Mary Fowler and Kyra Cooney-Cross were among those benched.

Charlize Rule and Sarah Hunter debuted in Langford and were among six players with less than 20 caps.

When asked whether he could have had more of a blend of youth and senior players, Gustavsson noted Polkinghorne, Aivi Luik, Teagan Micah, Courtney Nevin and Clare Wheeler weren’t lacking in experience.

“We’ve had a lot of debate and discussion, I listened to my experts around me with my sports science and physios about load management on players,” he said.

“If you for example, have a player that only has one game, which game are we playing (with them)?

“If we mix, maybe we get more like two solid performances but also at the expense of maybe continuity in a potential starting line-up.

“Age-wise and number of caps maybe not so experienced, but there was still enough there to feel that we had a balance and a structure.

“Sometimes growth hurts. Growth and development hurts at times. As long as you know why you’re doing it and what you’re doing and it’s up to me also to protect the players in this journey.”

Christine Sinclair shakes hands with Alanna Kennedy.
 Substitutes Christine Sinclair and Alanna Kennedy shake hands after the friendly in Canada. Image by AP PHOTO 

On a sodden artificial pitch at Starlight Stadium in Langford, Australia were overrun in midfield and had no first-half shots to Canada’s 13, while three of the five goals came from being dispossessed in their own half.

Gustavsson was adamant his young players would be better off after a harsh lesson on the speed of international football.

“A couple of the players said it straight after the game: ‘this is exactly what we needed’,” he said.

“This is not about throwing the player under the bus because they got dispossessed in their own half in build-up against Canada away – that’s on me, to ask them to do this and learn.

“We need to have a safe space in this environment where they can learn from mistakes. The biggest mistake we can do is stop trying and they really tried tonight and that’s the best thing they can do.”

Gustavsson turned to Fowler, Cooney-Cross, Katrina Gorry and Alanna Kennedy for the final half hour.

In her penultimate game, retiring Canada great Christine Sinclair entered the fray in the 62nd minute.

Remy Siemsen injured her ankle in the first half and was taken off at the break for precautionary reasons.