While much of the world is in a frenzy over the coronavirus, the Matildas aren't the least bit concerned about the disease ahead of trips to Vietnam and potentially Japan later this year.
Few teams in Australia have been more impacted by COVID-19 than Australia's national women's football team, whose 2020 Olympic Games qualifiers last month were heavily disrupted. Plans to travel to Wuhan, the central Chinese city at the centre of the outbreak, were hastily rearranged with the matches moved to Sydney before being delayed significantly due to quarantine measures placed on the travelling Chinese team. Throughout that period, the players' health was monitored by Football Federation Australia's medical team while the squad received regular updates on the evolving disease from other officials.
Kyah Simon was in hot form for the Matildas last month.Credit:AP
That experience has left the Matildas' striker Kyah Simon somewhat numb to the growing hysteria around the spread of the disease. Australia face Vietnam in Newcastle on Friday in the first leg of their Olympic play-off before travelling to Vietnam for Wednesday's return leg. While Vietnam has fewer reported outbreaks than Australia, the Matildas will play in Cam Pha, just 125km from the border with China.
"Obviously there has been a lot of stuff – whether it’s exaggerated or not – though the media in the last couple of months. The only thing in the forefront of our mind is the football side of things. We have full trust in the associations and the people organising it that make sure our health is a priority," Simon said.
The Matildas will earn a place in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics if they progress past Vietnam in the two-legged series and Simon has no concerns over travelling to Japan in August, should Australia qualify.
"As footballers, as professional athletes you are always going to have distractions on and off the field. All we have to do is worry about what our job is and ensure we are in the best possible condition we can be in and playing the best football we can," she said.
The Matildas anticipate facing a defensive-minded Vietnamese side on Friday night and have spent their first training sessions together preparing to overcome a deep, stacked defence. Coach Ante Milicic has spent significant time reviewing their 1-1 draw with China from last month, pinpointing flaws in the Matildas' performance that nearly led to them losing at home. In particular, he wants his side to make better decisions in possession and be cautious of long balls and counter-attacks while focusing on how to play through a deep defensive unit.
"I think Vietnam are a similar team to Thailand in that respect, generally parking with a low block and making it difficult. Usually when a lesser opponent plays against a pretty aggressive powerful team, in the past they have played with a lower block and they make it difficult to play through. From our perspective it will take some more patience," Simon said.
"We have faced this type of opponent before so we know what to expect but it’s been a long time since last time we played them so we are prepared for anything."
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