Matildas in crosshairs of public scrutiny as they prepare to play Brazil

Photo By Seb Daly/Sportsfile via Getty Images

As the shrapnel continues to fly from the off-field bombshell headlines targeting their culture, the Matildas' on-field performance will be in the crosshairs of public scrutiny this weekend.

Given the details around the independent investigation being undertaken by Sports Integrity Australia into allegations of bullying and harassment in women's football, due to be released in coming days, it's safe to say that even casual followers of the game will be watching a little more closely to see if the disturbing reports of recent weeks have affected the current cohort.

The joint statement and the accompanying personal statements released by 15 members of the current squad in response to the recent revelations produced the outward appearance of a close-knit family singing off a startlingly similar hymn sheet, but it has also ensured plenty of eyeballs will be on them as they play their first match on home soil in 579 days, at the venue where they defeated Chile 2-1 in front of a record 20,029 fans.

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That match, back in November 2019, was the first home game for the Matildas after the FIFA Women's World Cup in France; the side had a disappointing tournament, making a Round-of-16 exit at the hands of Norway, but public support at home was at an all-time high.

The head coach at the time, Ante Milicic, who was appointed to the role after the unceremonious sacking of Alen Stajcic, saw them through successful qualification to the 2020 Olympic Games; but with a job at the new A-League men's side, Macarthur Bulls, already confirmed, the postponement of the Tokyo Games meant there was a new hand on the tiller for the campaign in Japan.

Enter Tony Gustavsson, and perhaps a new era for the Matildas, with the intensity ratcheting up a notch ahead of the Women's World Cup on home soil in just over two years.

The Covid-19 pandemic played havoc with Gustavsson's start in the role and, as a result, this week is the first time the Swede has set foot in Australia.

Results in pre-Olympic friendlies against Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and Japan saw the Matildas head into the Tokyo Games without a win since their victory over Vietnam in March 2020.

Their appearance in the bronze medal match at the Olympic Games provided some respite, but the post-Olympic 3-2 loss to Republic of Ireland in September means the side has recorded no wins from six friendlies since Gustavsson took over.

With Western Sydney Wanderers striker Bryleeh Henry called into camp in this international window, the new boss has now had a chance to look at 56 players in his 10-month tenure -- 16 getting their first opportunity at the senior level.

The global pandemic has pushed out the timelines, but Gustavsson's priority now must be to see as many potential Matildas as possible, to assess how they will fit into the process and his game plan, and to eliminate those who don't.

The Swede has chosen a range of opposition to test his charges, and while the early results against Germany and Netherlands were tough to take, they gave him a clear marker of where the Matildas were against the calibre of sides they will need to beat to lift the World Cup.

The value in those results will be what the team has learned from those losses when they face those opponents in tournament football.

Back in 2005, the Matildas went on a tour of Asia, where, still somewhat flying under the radar at that time, they recorded just one win in five matches against China, Japan and Korea. The following year at the AFC Asian Cup, it would take penalties to deny the Matildas the trophy against that same opposition, and four years later they were champions of Asia.

This current side, however, no longer has the luxury of staying "under the radar"; the majority of the starting XI plays in the top leagues in Europe, and the squad for this current window has a combined 1049 caps worth of international experience. They now need to find a way to win, whatever the circumstances.

Gustavsson will soon need to settle on his squad for the AFC Asian Cup in January, and there will be a preferred way to execute his tactics, but champion teams need to be able to find a way from "this is how we play" to "this is how we adapt to get a result" -- and that's not just the tactical nous; that is also the football IQ and passion from the playing group.

The Matildas need their collective belief to be high right now, and 'the process' is still fairly new and the player buy-in to it is strong; but if the side continues to ship goals -- they have conceded 30 in their past 12 games -- confidence will start to dwindle.

Prior to the bronze medal match in Tokyo two months ago, Gustavsson said "we're heading somewhere to leave this game better than when we arrived"; if that is the legacy the Matildas are working towards, then it is a process to execute immediately -- on and off the park.