Matilda Alanna Kennedy confident of shoring up defence ahead of Asian Cup title charge

The emergence of fresh talent and the addition of more high-quality friendlies under Toni Gustafson has left Matilda better prepared for success in next week’s Asian Women’s Cup than the Tokyo Olympics, according to veteran defender Alana Kennedy.

Last August, Matilda made their first major step under Gustafson on their way to the 2023 Women’s World Cup on home soil, making history by finishing fourth in Tokyo – the farthest Australian team to advance in the Olympic Championship.

They narrowly lost what would have been their first-ever medal with a 4-3 loss to the United States, who took the bronze.

Australia have played five friendlies since that tournament, including two at home against Brazil and world champions USA.

Gustavsson used these matches to inject new blood into the Australia group, with new faces like Remy Siemsen, Clare Wheeler, Courtney Nevin, Jessika Nash and Charlotte Grant all under the Swede’s lead.

Despite winning only one of those post-Olympic friendlies, Kennedy says the entire team is increasingly attuned to Gustafson’s tactics and vision heading into this month’s continental championship in India.

Matildas’ first and currently only Asian title came in over a decade ago, but despite her climb up the rankings since then, Australia have faltered at the last hurdle in the past two tournaments, losing 1-0 to Japan in 2014 and 2018.

Australia have lost their last two AFC Women’s Asian Cup finals to Japan, losing 1-0 in 2014 (above) and 2018.(Getty Images: Stanley Chu)

“It feels good,” Kennedy said. “Obviously since the Olympics we’ve had quite a few players coming in to try and so we’re always looking to add more to the team.”

“That’s always good, but I think the thing we’ve also done is continue with the same tactics and learning that we got from that tournament.

“We’ve certainly had growth in two areas since then.

“It was really nice to have so many games and opportunities to learn more from them [Gustavsson] And understand it more.

“He’s been here for a while and has definitely settled down and we understand his way of training and the philosophy he’s applied here.

“We are still building on a few things but we are definitely moving in the right direction and we have a good understanding of what he wants from us as players.”

Amidst the fresh faces selected for the AFC Women’s AFC training camp, including three players who have never played in the A-League, Gustafson was also able to impress 36-year-old midfielder Ivy Loeck.

Matildas player Ivy Loeck poses during a match at the Olympics
Experienced midfielder Ivy Loeck has been called up to the squad after retiring from the national team last year.(Hector Vivas, Getty Images )

Veteran Matildas announced her international retirement after the Olympics but accepted the call-up after a conversation with Gustafsson before the team was announced earlier this month.

Kennedy had no idea Luik was ready to make an international comeback, but had no pleasure in being reunited with a player who was part of the 2010 AFC Asian Cup winning Australian team, joining fellow veterans Sam Kerr, Kyah Simon, Lydia Williams, Tamika Yallop, and Claire Polkenhorn to lift the nation’s first continental title.

“When we first heard it was [a surprise]But for us it’s a great addition to the group we have here at the moment,” Kennedy said of Loic’s return.

“We are really grateful that she also seized this opportunity.

“It just talks about her character and how much she loves playing for her country too. We’re really happy to have Ivy back here.”

AAP / ABC

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