Australia's narrow escape against China last month could provide the jolt they need before their 2020 Olympic play-off, with the players put on notice about overcoming defensive, counter-attacking sides.
The Matildas face Vietnam in the first leg of their play-off for the Tokyo Olympics in Newcastle on Friday night and expect the visitors to get plenty of bodies behind the ball, potentially stacking their defence with at least five players. Australia's coach Ante Milicic expects the Vietnamese to play a similar style to the Chinese side that came close to defeating the Matildas at Bankwest Stadium last month.
The Matildas celebrate their last-gasp equaliser against China last month. Credit:Getty
China were happy to let the Matildas have possession inside their own half for long spells, sitting back as a defensive unit before attacking on the break with long balls in behind the defence. It was no surprise much of the Matildas' analysis this week centred on preventing vulnerabilities on the counter and playing with patience in possession.
"The China game exposed a few things for us defensively that we had to work on and a few things that we had to tidy up, the tournament was really good of us on the ball and off the ball," defender Steph Catley said. "Hopefully we can tidy those things up."
Milicic has spent the week in Newcastle training his players to find ways through tight defences, picking their moments to attack rather than bombarding.
There won't be any let-up to the Matildas' broader strategy of keeping the ball and playing an attacking brand, but in a home-and-away tie with a place at the Olympics at stake, he won't take as many risks against one of the world's fastest developing football nations.
"They have generally been a four-four-two block and they have had the same coach for a while now. We saw in the last game against South Korea they went to a more back five, so we expect them to defend deep, have a lot of players behind the ball to quickly counter in transition," he said.
"They have a lot of speed on the flanks, they're quite good technically and we expected a difficult game. One thing we know is the women's game has improved very much. There is a ticket to the Olympics on the line so I am sure it’s going to be a game where they put their front foot forward but for us it’s all about ourselves."
While the Matildas could be more cautious in defence, they won't look to make major alterations to their attack. They scored 14 goals in three games in the previous stage of qualifiers and a repeat showing in front of goal could put them in the box seat to Tokyo before the second leg in Vietnam on Wednesday.
"We are building on all the good things we worked on last month. As I said, we are looking to control the game, play our style of football and hopefully get a result that sets ourselves up nicely for the return leg in Vietnam," Milicic said.
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