ALEAGUE CITY MARINERS
ALEAGUE CITY MARINERS

Don’t blame Stajcic sacking for Italy upset

It didn't take long for critics to pound their keyboards and virtually plead with some nondescript power to "bring back Staj".

As with life, football is a little more nuanced than that.

There's no skirting around the fact the Matildas were poor in their opening World Cup loss to Italy.

A team talked up as dark horses to win the tournament lacked composure and cohesion.

The Matildas were also defensively culpable again and have now conceded 10 goals over three games and scored just four.

Yet it wasn't quite as catastrophic as the critics would claim. Not yet, anyway.

Yes, the Matildas played a dangerously high defensive line, an approach former Australian star Heather Garriock described as "absolutely ridiculous" after two Italy goals on the counter were disallowed by marginal off-side calls.

Italy’s Barbara Bonansea scores the winning goal, consigning the Matildas to a first-up defeat. Picture: Getty
Italy’s Barbara Bonansea scores the winning goal, consigning the Matildas to a first-up defeat. Picture: Getty

Yes, their passing was errant, there were issues in lateral attacking rotations, and they were caught out playing out from the back.

But the latter is, by the players' own reckoning, not a new philosophy.

"I feel like we always play that way," Elise Kellond-Knight said.

"Even Staj encouraged us to play out from the back and it's the way we want to play. We're never going to turn into a direct team."

That sentiment was echoed by coach Ante Milicic, who lamented some poor positioning but labelled Clare Polkinghorne's heavy touch to concede the equaliser as an "isolated situation".

"I will always believe in that style," Milicic said.

"That's the style we want to progress up the field. We just need to get better at it, and quickly."

Elise Kellond-Knight (R) tracks a ball with Italy’s Valentina Giacinti. Picture: Getty
Elise Kellond-Knight (R) tracks a ball with Italy’s Valentina Giacinti. Picture: Getty

Italy, while ranked nine places below Australia, are a good side. They have a skilful, fearless attack and street-smart tactics.

Under coach Milena Bertolini, Le Azzurre have barely recorded a blemish all year.

The Matildas' issues against European sides, not to mention recent trials against Asian teams during qualifying, stretch back well before this January, when the acidic politics surrounding Alen Stajcic's sacking began.

In all, they won five of their 13 games last year.

It's equally fair to assume the fallout from that messy affair, coupled with the external noise and limited time to prepare under a new coach, has affected the squad.

That it remains an uncomfortable subject became clear when a journalist asked Lisa De Vanna about the combination of these factors.

 

The shadow of Alen Stajcic’s sacking still hangs heavy over the Matildas. Picture: Brett Costello
The shadow of Alen Stajcic’s sacking still hangs heavy over the Matildas. Picture: Brett Costello

The veteran forward could barely get out her answer before a Football Federation Australia staff member called time on the post-match interview.

"I try not to go on social media," De Vanna said. "Because I've always been someone who doesn't like people judging me when they don't know me. So I'm very limited.

"But for the girls, are they going to read this stuff? Is it going to affect them? I don't go on social media. Especially now, no way."

That issue aside, Milicic is a different coach to Stajcic and will make a unique set of mistakes to his predecessor.

Likewise, success for the former Socceroos assistant will come via different methods.

Should the Matildas fail to progress from their group - or even lose to Brazil - the questions will rightly become significantly more serious, as will further critique of those who removed Stajcic.

For now, and with only a single competitive game to go on, writing off a coach is premature.

News Corp Australia


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