Under-pressure coach Tony Gustavsson has defended his experimental approach to Australia’s first international meeting with Spain, despite a 7-0 drubbing in Huelva that rated as the Matildas’ heaviest loss in 25 years.
An understrength Australia side were overwhelmed by the hosts in the second half at the Estadio Nuevo Colombino, conceding six goals after a resolute first-half defensive display had largely held the world No 7 side at bay.
Australia, just five places below Spain in Fifa’s rankings, went in at half-time just one goal down after their resistance was finally broken in the 44th minute by Aitana Bonmatí’s wonderful strike. But what had been a largely pleasing opening period for Gustavsson soon gave way to a capitulation, leading to questions about the value of playing such an inexperienced side against one of the best squads in the world.
“There’s probably going to be some reactions of ‘why did you play such a good team with such an inexperienced roster?’,” Gustavsson said. “But I think we need these answers. Not short term, and especially not for me. I’m going to be scrutinised now but it’s not about me – it’s about the long-term legacy, 23 and beyond. Not just preparation for the World Cup but investments past that World Cup and I think the answers that we got now is a wake-up call for a lot of people.”
The defeat increases pressure on the Swede, who was already under fire after the Matildas’ early Asian Cup exit in January and whose record since taking over in 2020 has been poor. But he insisted the game in Spain was a useful exercise.
“Coming into this game, we said we were going to look at it as two 45-minute games and get different answers [for each period],” he said. “In the first period, considering the [lack of] experience on the park in the first 45, to commit to a gameplan like that against Spain, one of the world’s best teams ... I’m actually really happy and proud about the girls’ commitment and effort in defending.
“In the second half we looked at other things. We wanted to rotate players, look at players. I want to be very clear now that this is not about blaming an individual player for the loss. These players are more representing a situation we are in right now where we finished a game with four players playing in the NPL and one in college.
“To expect those individual players to match up against Spain, it’s not fair to the individual. I am ready to take that hit as a coach.”
The Matildas were missing a host of regular starters including captain Sam Kerr, Ellie Carpenter, Steph Catley, Kyah Simon, Mary Fowler, Alanna Kennedy and Caitlin Foord, with a number of fresh faces drafted in. Taylor Ray and Jamilla Rankin both made their debuts as Gustavsson made eight changes to the side that defeated New Zealand 3-1 in Canberra last month and experimented with five at the back.
The Matildas reverted to a 4-3-3 after the break, but they soon fell apart, and when Mariona Caldentey found the back of the net in the 48th minute, the floodgates opened. Esther González added a third before Lucía García scored her first of the game as Spain took a 4-0 lead within 10 minutes of the restart.
García added her second of the night before Irene Guerrero bagged two for herself as full-time approached and Spain continued their preparations ahead of the upcoming Women’s Euros in style. For the Matildas, it was their biggest defeat since falling to the US 9-1 in 1997, and equalled a 7-0 rout at the hands of China in 1988.