Tony Gustavsson, the manager of the Australian women’s team, says he is “proud” to be part of a team whose “it factor” he admired from afar ahead of his team’s Olympic semi-final against his home country Sweden.
Gustavsson, a former assistant coach of the US women’s national team, took over the Matildas in September.
“When I was on the opponent’s bench training against Australia a long time ago, I felt like there was some kind of ‘it’ factor about this team that I wanted to know more about, and now that I’ve been inside and Part of this amazing Matilda team, I’ve started to see what that ‘it’ factor is, that ‘never-say-die’ attitude and passion, ”he said.
The 47-year-old has breathed new life into a roster full of talent but hampered by off-field disputes that led to the dismissal of former coach Alen Stajcic ahead of the 2019 World Cup. In Gustavsson, the team has stability and a coach who Arsenal player Steph Catley and PSV player Kyah Simon “cannot speak highly enough”.
Simon said: “It’s his energy, his charisma and his passion for his job, for our team. He didn’t try to push too much of his tactics and style of play, but he really designed his tactics and style of play to suit the players we have. “
Gustavsson was extremely impressed with the way his team “dug very deep” to beat Team GB in the quarter-finals and in the 89 Micah had saved a penalty to keep the 2-2 equalizer.
“It was that belief, that ruthless winning mentality and that team spirit that got us there, and I’m a very small part of it,” he said. “Kyah and the players created this before I got there, I’m just happy to be a part of it, to be honest.
What has he been doing since he arrived? “Everyone starts to be on the same page and see the same picture,” said Gustavsson. “We try to build the team from the strengths of the player and not just from ‘Tony’s tactics’. It’s not just my tactic, it’s about building the tactic around the key players in the key positions and trying to get the best out of them.
“I think in the short amount of time we’ve had we’ve started getting the players tactically to see the same picture, but at the end of the day it’s not the tactics that got us here, it’s the passion and the heart that the players have shown. “
In Sweden, Australia will meet the strong team of the tournament – a team they defeated 4-2 in the “Group of Death”, Group G, consisting of the USA, Sweden, Australia and New Zealand. “They were very impressive,” said Gustavsson. “So far they have been the best team in the tournament. The first half against the USA [a match Sweden won 3-0] could be one of the best halves I’ve ever seen on a Swedish women’s national team, from the ones I’ve seen anyway. I was very impressed. Many of their offensive players are in the shape of their lives, you can see that they score goals in their attacking game. “
Sweden are set to stop Chelsea striker Sam Kerr, who scored both of the Matildas’ goals in the Group G game. For Australia, it’s 25-year-old Swedish striker Stina Blackstenius, who “was mentioned a couple of times today in the team meeting,” said Gustavsson with a wry smile.
“It’s in huge shape. She was phenomenal and worked hard defensively. Her runs behind were really good. Without giving too much away, it’s not just about defending it at that moment, but about what happens before it comes into play and the moment before it. “
What is it like to be successful as a Swede against Sweden? “I’ve already had some experience with the US team,” said Gustavsson. “It’s always unique to play against the country where you were born. It will be a special game. It’s nice to say hello, but once the game starts it will continue. I represent the Matildas and we are doing everything we can to make it to the final. “