No longer the underdog: Have the Matildas finally beaten their hoodoo?

Tony Gustavsson’s press conference following the dismantling of closest rivals, the Philippines, in the second round of Olympic qualifying took us back to the beginning of his tenure; the well-spoken Swede reminded the room that three years ago the Matildas believed that they could only perform as underdogs.

He believed that Sunday’s game, that saw both Caitlin Foord and Sam Kerr notch impressive hat-tricks in an eight-goal haul, was a cultural shift, a watershed moment where the Australian national team finally learned that they could dominate, deliver a professional performance and turn the screw on their lesser opponents.

Indeed, right from the central defenders, who he described as brave for taking such advanced positions and leaving the whole of their half free against their intuition, he was impressed that the squad had adapted quickly to only two training sessions and two video sessions that the team had been afforded ahead of this game.

There was even a shot of Gustavsson on the big screen during the match, grinning in satisfaction as one of the goals went in, and he admitted that he was happy that a crowd of over 59,000 could enjoy such an entertaining performance.

Comparing the first half of today’s game to the opening stanza of the Canada game in the FIFA Women’s World Cup, two vastly different occasions, he conceded that today would be up there with the best performances since he took the reins in 2020.

Only a suspected soft tissue injury to Cortnee Vine would take the shine off a devastating performance, and he also rued being unable to talk up Amy Sayer’s two goals after she headed a chance over the bar from close range and was denied by the referee when challenging the goalkeeper.

Wednesday night encapsulates the Til It’s Done motto of the Matildas in 2023. While some may say that it is simply a formality, Gustavsson will be using it as an opportunity to see some more of his squad. A ‘mixed line-up’ based on performance is likely to be adopted, according to the national team coach.

Due to the restrictions of two games being played in the stadium on one day, and the desire to get the players back to camp for recovery and injury assessment, there was only time for a few minutes with Caitlin Foord after her coach had left the press conference.

In a perfectly scripted segue, Australia’s top performer described the way that her coach has helped the team cope with matches against lower-ranked teams. On a day when goals were important, she was happy for her team to score eight unanswered goals in front of an excited Perth crowd.

So, is the hoodoo broken? Are the Matildas now equipped to deal with teams who set out to defend and disrupt the play in order to keep the score to a minimum with little attacking intent of their own?

We only have to wait three days to find out. Chinese Taipei are the next opponents and they will be out to frustrate Australia. From what we saw at Optus Stadium, though, this has definitely been a game-changer and the Matildas have taken another step forward in maturity in this golden era of Australian women’s football.

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