The behind-the-scenes gripes that have Gustavsson under fire ahead of Kiwis friendlies

The Matildas are set to face 2023 World Cup co-hosts New Zealand from April 4-12 in Canberra as preparations continue for next year’s tournament.

The Football Ferns are ranked 22nd in the world and while they won’t be a breeze, there are whispers among the football community that Tony Gustavsson has taken an easy option to try and cash in some much needed wins for the embattled coach.

However, to be fair to Gustavsson, UEFA have their World Cup qualifiers during this period, so a top-notch European opponent was not an option. Twelve of the top 20 nations in the world rankings are European.

However, other Asian opponents like Japan, China or Asian Cup winners South Korea would have been a tougher test. North Korea is not an option with the country shunning international football during the COVID pandemic.

Even Canada’s Olympic champions were available in that time frame.

But New Zealand are the opponents of choice and the pressure is on Gustavsson to deliver a result. And contrary to popular belief, they will be hard to break.

(Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

The Football Ferns performed admirably in the recent SheBelieves Cup, drawing 0-0 with the Czech Republic (ranked 24th) and losing 1-0 to Iceland (16th). A nasty 5-0 loss to reigning world champions USA was the only bad result.

In November last year, the Kiwis shared a two-game series against South Korea, losing 2-1 in the first game before winning 2-0 in the second.

Melbourne City striker Hannah Wilkinson, North Carolina stars Abby Erceg and Katie Bowen and Tottenham midfielder Ria Percival are all top performers and will push the Matildas hard. Melbourne City skipper Ali Riley and Rebekah Stott will also be there to give the Kiwis plenty of steel.

With just six wins in 20 games since taking charge last year, Gustavsson is in danger of losing his job ahead of next year’s highly anticipated World Cup. There is also pressure on him to bring fresh blood against the Football Ferns, leaving him with a major conundrum.

With the Asian Cup quarter-final disaster highlighting the lack of variety and new ideas in the squad, April would be the perfect opportunity to try something new and experiment with the squad. But it’s not an easy task for a coach whose job is at stake.

The likes of Jessika Nash, Cortnee Vine, Bryleeh Henry, Remy Siemsen, Winonah Heatley, Jamilla Rankin, Karly Roestbakken, Charlotte Grant, Clare Wheeler, Charlize Rule and Dylan Holmes would all bring some much-needed freshness to the team, but the risk of losing to a team outside the top 20 may be too much for Gustavsson to bear.

Australian players celebrate their first goal scored by Sam Kerr (obscured) during the AFC Women's Asian Cup Group B match between Philippines and Australia at Mumbai Football Arena on January 24, 2022 in Mumbai, Mumbai India.  (Photo by Thananuwat Srirasant/Getty Images)

(Photo by Thananuwat Srirasant/Getty Images)

There’s also the risk of the youngsters failing to perform which will only amplify the fact that the Swede hasn’t been as present as expected perhaps also impacting their development.

It is well known that Gustavsson’s negotiated contract stipulated that he did not have to move to Australia until September of this year. The FA has been criticized for agreeing to such terms.

Mel Andreatta ran things on the ground in Australia while Gustavsson communicated via Zoom and other technologies.

While the argument has been that several Matildas stars are based in Europe, the reality is that Gustavsson hasn’t been to watch them as much. There are also no organized training camps. Many of these players are also well established, so Gustavsson wouldn’t learn anything new from them anyway.

Andreatta has run camps in Australia for fringe players, a role many believe Gustavsson should fill in person rather than via video.

These younger or inexperienced players should logically have been the target on which Gustavsson needed to focus most of his coaching. His lack of physical presence during key training cycles makes no sense.

A number of former Matildas and trainers in Australia are stunned at the arrangement, especially given the compensation package Gustavsson would have.

Part of Gustavsson’s legacy was also intended to develop local coaches, which clearly did not happen.

Even more surprisingly, in India at the Asian Cup, Gustavsson opted to bring in fellow Swede Jens Fjellstrom to work with him for the tournament, rather than taking on an Australian coach. It is understood that Fjellstrom is not on the Matildas’ permanent staff.

The last time Australia faced New Zealand was at the Tokyo Olympics, with the Matildas winning 2-1.

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