Well, it’s not like Toni Gustavsson didn’t call.

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“When we win the ball, if we keep giving it back, there will be wave after wave after wave and we will break through; and they will score goals for us, ”the Matilda coach warned before Saturday’s match. friendly against Spain.

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Set up in a low defensive block and unable to hold the ball for long periods, the manager’s prediction came true when Australia were defeated 7–0 by Huelva, melting in the second half as their opponents scored six goals with little resistance. installed backwards.

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The phrase “dam wall breach” comes to mind, but ultimately doesn’t paint an accurate picture. Dam walls shouldn’t collapse, it’s a shock and a disaster when that happens. And while it cannot be said that the Australian defense played well at the Estadio Nuevo Colombino, the constant pressure they were forced to endure throughout the game meant that such a collapse, albeit perhaps by a small margin, was bound to happen. were unsurprising.

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By the end of the game, the Spaniards had gained 76% of possession and had 23 shots on goal, 10 of them on target. In contrast, the Matildas were only able to land four shots on goal against Sandra Panos on 24% possession, with none of them on target.

But it was Red control of the game, especially in areas of the pitch where they lost the ball, that even that 24% possession felt less like a meager attempt to create some level of resistance, and more like the Spaniards were just letting their opponents have a little bit of possession. they recover their form before returning the ball and launching a new attack.

Even in the first half, with the hosts blunted in their attacks until Aitana Bonmati showed individual brilliance to open the scoring in the 44th minute, there was little to show that Matilda had any real chance of scoring the glove. their opponents: Katrina Gorry, hitting the crossbar in a rare forward move at 23 minutes to shed light in the surrounding darkness.

It was a game in which Gustavsson, absent from his team of nine ostensibly first-choice players and forced to recalibrate even more after the departure of Alex Schidiak and Angela Byrd from the declared 23, took the ultra-pragmatic route. The plan, it turned out, was to press high and aggressively when Spain were deep in their half of the field, and when they passed a certain point on the field, fall back into a low defensive block and watch the transition.

The problem was that the Spaniards had so much of the ball that ultimately Matilda’s attack had less than a few chances to actually get the ball into areas of the field where they were able to press when they lost it. . Such was Spain’s control of the midfield, Australia’s attempts to cross often ended in losses in their own half, which in turn served to keep the defense under constant pressure as their opponents effectively lined up to attack as if they were in buffet.

Another problem was that Spain, frankly, had the best players.

Of course, this means creating a narrative that a Matilda team with an extremely weak squad, able to hold the favorites of next month’s European Championship for almost the entire half, is a strong positive thing to take from what is happening. This was certainly the line that Matilda’s coach took from the game.

“In the first period, we got answers that, given the experience we had in the park during the first 45 minutes … to stick to a game plan like the one against Spain, one of the best teams in the world that is aiming for the Euro – and now we are in a completely different situation – I am actually happy and proud of the commitment of the girl, ”he said.

“Effort and protection. When you have to play Spain, sometimes you have to defend in a very different way than you are used to.”

“I think it was a good mix of high pressing and hard pressing sequences and then low blocking and defensive patience. ball.”

The Swede, rightfully, also singled out Gorry for praise. Along with 20-year-old defenseman Charlotte Grant, who now looks like the most likely replacement for Ellie Carpenter during her cruciate ligament injury rehab, the diminutive linebacker was one of the few positives to take from what turned into a night of horror. She struggled, often in vain, trying to avoid pressure with the ball or find space without it in positions that would allow her to lead her team onto the field.

“[Gorry] was world class,” Gustavsson said without prompting. – She has shown that she has the technique and tactical ability to match any player in Spain. And she showed it tonight. And her physical form, and the fight. I was very pleased with Mini and the team’s commitment to the game plan in the first half.”

However, even the Matilda boss couldn’t shine on a half in which his team conceded six goals – three by headers – and suffered a hard, demoralizing defeat.

“Second half we were looking at other things,” he said. “We wanted to change the players, look at the players, and now I want to be clear: this is not about blaming an individual player for this defeat.

“These players better reflect the situation we are in right now. We ended up with four NPLW players and one college player. And expecting these individual players to play against Spain is not fair to the individual.

“But I am ready to take this blow as a coach because I said from the very first day that we need answers and we need investment in our program. they need to get into an environment where they can thrive and be ready for international football.”

This in itself is an important lesson for Australian football. Additional investment is needed to provide local players with better opportunities to be in an elite environment at home. Not every player will be able to find the right situation to move to the international level, and at home there must be conditions conducive to development. Announcements are expected this off-season from those in charge of the A-League Women (Australian Professional League) competition.

But if these are lessons that needed to be repeated in the match with Spain, 12 months before the home World Cup, then another matter.

Gustavsson reiterated that the absence of players such as Sam Kerr, Steph Catley and Ivy Luik was inevitable. Due to the busyness of the players this season, they just need a break; Carpenter’s anterior cruciate ligament injury was a severe warning. But he also made it clear that this game was in development for a year, citing after the game that this is the only time this game can be protected and that contracts have been signed and must be respected.

With this advance warning, steps should have been taken to ensure that players were available for this window compared to others? Kerr, for example, flew from England to Australia and played full games in the April series against New Zealand. Catley and Alanna Kennedy started both of these games. Why?

Australia has already comfortably beaten Football Ferns with a full squad at the Olympics. Undoubtedly, it was a game to take out the likes of Jamilla Rankin and Taylor Ray, who at the time were only a week into the ALW season, and not against perhaps the best team in the world, on their soil.

Now even the positives of the first half will have dubious durability. Will the Matildas ever be able to tune in in such an ultra-pragmatic way when they actually have access to a full-fledged roster? Probably not.

So, aside from Gorry and Grant’s game, the most lasting legacy this game leaves on Matilda’s team may just be a showcase of who won’t be fighting for 2023: who needs more development, or who just isn’t up to par.

But with so few international windows left before the start of the World Cup, was it worth it? Should the team be demoralized and embarrassed by a bunch of obviously higher level players?

There’s a potentially salvage game against Portugal on Tuesday, and the lower-ranked Portuguese do represent more favorable opposition. But beyond the disappointment, perhaps the biggest takeaway from Matilda’s heavy defeat: what’s the point of playing this match?