Matildas’ assistant coach Melissa Andreatta and her fellow national team coaches are looking to build an arsenal that can not only challenge for a medal in Tokyo, but also fire in the years ahead.
26 of the 2020-21 W-League season’s best performers assembled in Sydney on Tuesday for the first day of a Women’s Talent Identification Camp organised by Football Australia to provide a potential pathway to the Matildas for domestically based talent.
Unable to be selected for the national team’s recent training camp in the Netherlands and friendlies against Germany and the Dutch, the four-day bivouac looms as one of the best, and last, opportunities for domestically-based players to break into Australia's 18-player squad for the coming Olympic Games.
Matildas' boss Tony Gustavsson not able to attend in person, assistant coach Andreatta has taken charge of proceedings - the former Brisbane Roar boss also having overseen the first Talent ID camp staged back in November - and has been encouraged by the early signs on display.
“It’s been a busy couple of days,” Andreatta said.
“The players have arrived and are very keen to showcase themselves and what they can do to help the Matildas be even better.
“From the short time that we’ve had together, I can definitely see that they have the mentality to work hard and to take on all the information that the group in the Netherlands [received] to the best ability that they can and be ready to prepare for what’s ahead.
“For some of them, it could be a selection for a June [Matildas] camp.
“It’s that uncertainty that they’re all coming to groups with right now, but it adds that level of excitement to do their best in front of all the coaches and players that are around them.
[Gustavsson is] right in the mix of it. We talk more than daily, it’s twice or three times daily. In fact, for the opening meeting, he dialled in and spoke to the players.
“We’ve arranged for the sessions to be live-streamed as well. He’s very much involved.
“Together with our enhanced scouting network of the W-League, consulting with our youth national team coaches and Tony being across all the W-League games and watching film, we’ve identified this group of players.
“We’re looking to give them the opportunity to showcase them for the Olympics and World Cup 2023.”
The 26 players that have converged on Sydney represent an eclectic mix of skills and experience levels.
Amongst them are the likes of Matildas’ legend Lisa De Vanna and her 150 international appearances (one away from Cheryl Sainsbury’s all-time record), 17-time Matilda Alex Chidiac, Western Sydney Wanderers’ Georgia Yeoman-Dale, and Melbourne City’s Jenna McCormick.
There are also breakthrough 2020-21 stars and widely tipped next-gen contributors such as Melbourne Victory Grand Final hero Kyra Cooney-Cross and Sydney FC's Remy Siemsen.
In addition, uncapped and largely unknown teenagers such as Canberra United’s Jessika Nash, Brisbane Roar’s Jamilla Rankin and Melbourne Victory’s Polly Doran have made their way to the Harbour City.
Of course, the latter group's presence shouldn't be surprising given that Gustavsson has frequently spoken of a need to balance the demands of the coming months with planning for the massive years ahead of his side; which includes not just Tokyo and the 2023 World Cup, but also an Asian Cup and the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
Thus, while a number of the 26 players have converged on Sydney with a genuine chance to impress the Swede, Andreatta, and the rest of the Matildas’ staff enough to earn a seat on the plane to Tokyo, others are being exposed to the national setup with a more long-term goal in mind.
“What all these players have in common is that they have a weapon,” said Andreatta
“They have a weapon in their arsenal that they can bring to any game, be it in club or international football that they can use to hurt teams.
“Having said that, though, [some of] those weapons could be more ready or sharpened given more time.
“With one eye on the Olympics, which is short term, and identifying players who are ready to deploy those weapons in the Olympics, we also have an eye, parallel to that, on the 2023 World Cup and players who are bubbling and who could be ready for that major tournament.
“The players… are here for different reasons and on the back of great performances in the W-League, performances in the November camp and the potential that we see in them and what they can bring to the national team.”
The challenge of preparing for the coming Olympiad, however, goes beyond simply selecting an 18-player squad capable of staging an assault on the medals.
Coronavirus-related restrictions on travel already forced Gustavsson to select an entirely foreign-based side for the Matildas’ European based camp and friendlies, and Football Australia staff - including Andreatta - that returned to Australia were forced to undergo two weeks' quarantine upon their return.
COVID-cases around the world surging, uncertainty surrounding travel and potential restriction measures overseas continues to linger, as do concerns surrounding Japan’s ability to safely stage the Olympics in the face of the virus.
“I think we have to prepare like we have full access to all the players,” the Matildas assistant said when asked on her side’s current plans. 100% of the players for 100% of the time.
“That’s our game plan - that we have everyone available, in an environment that we deem necessary and important for a gold medal performance at the Olympic Games.
“Working backwards from that, what we’ve learned through COVID, and what I think Australians do bloody well, is we’ll be agile and have plan B, C and D all ready to go should option A not come to fruition.
“I think the Netherlands camp is a testament to that approach - we have a number of different plans, we have agile staff who are willing to shift and move between different plans in order to get our players together to prepare for the Olympic Games.”