Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson remains upbeat despite a tough Olympic draw that has paired Australia with two of the world’s top five sides at the Tokyo Games.
The Matildas face a difficult path towards an Olympic medal after being drawn in the same group as the top-ranked US and Sweden, the current world No 5 and 2016 silver medallists.
Australia, ranked ninth in the world, will kick off their campaign against trans-Tasman rivals New Zealand in their opening Group G game in the 12-nation women’s tournament in Japan.
Swede Gustavsson, who was assistant coach of the USWNT before taking over the Matildas last year, said the familiarity of the opponents made the draw less daunting than it might have been otherwise.
“Obviously it’s a tough draw in terms of top ranked teams,” Gustavsson said. “For each pot, we’ve got the toughest, the highest-ranking teams. So that’s a tough one, but it also means we have a lot of knowledge about the teams.
“Sweden, I know a lot about for natural reasons. The US I’ve been working with for four years. And then obviously, all my staff know a lot about New Zealand as well. We have a good insight of what we’re facing.”
With the top two teams in each group progressing to the knockout phase of the tournament, the opener against New Zealand in Tokyo on 21 July looms as a must-win fixture.
The draw was made a week after the Matildas finally played a pair of competitive fixtures, having been out of action for over a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The drubbings against the world No 2 and 3 respectively were hardly the ideal start for Gustavsson, but he said preparations for the Olympic tournament – at which Australia has never progressed beyond the last eight – could now begin in earnest.
“Now we know who we’re going to face in the group stage it is about doing the analysis as good as possible,” he said. “We already have some of those things in place already when it comes to all the opponents in the Olympics.
“Now we are nailing down to these three opponents in the group stage to have a plan and a game plan for each one of them. We will then keep scouting them from now up until the to the Olympics to get updated on those analysis processes.”
The Olyroos have also been handed a tough draw after being placed in a group with two-times gold medallists Argentina and European giants Spain.
The other team in the men’s group is African powerhouse Egypt, leaving Graham Arnold’s men with an uphill task to progress to the knockout stages in their first Olympic appearance since Beijing 2008.
“I believe we have received a fantastic draw, and it will be a great experience for our boys,” Arnold said. “In the past playing against Argentina has brought the best out of Australian footballers, while the opportunity for us to play against a top African nation in Egypt, as well as Spain, is a great opportunity to show what we have got.”
“My expectations are very high from ourselves as a team. With the delay of the Olympics for a year due to Covid, it has enabled our players to get a lot of game time, and I truly believe that we are in a better position at this time than last year. A good number of players are playing every week.”
This year’s Games – postponed for 12 months due to the global impacts of the pandemic – marks the first time that both the Matildas and Olyroos have competed at the same Games since Athens 2004.
Australian Associated Press contributed to this report.