Matildas to host China in Adelaide and Sydney

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Former Matildas coach Ante Milicic is proud of the role he has played in leading a women’s national team that he believes “carries Australian football”.

Milicic, now China’s coach, will face his former team when the Matildas host the Steel Roses at Adelaide Oval on Friday night and at Accor Stadium in Sydney on Monday.

And while he hopes to plot the Australians’ downfall, Milicic is also thrilled by the Matildas’ surge in popularity and the success they had in reaching the semi-finals of last year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup on home soil.

“They have changed Australian football,” said Milicic, who coached the Matildas for 17 months from February 2019 to July 2020

“They carry Australian football on their shoulders in some ways and I couldn’t be prouder of the direction they’ve taken.

“I’m so happy for the girls because they deserve to be in this situation, to achieve the results they have achieved, but also as individual players and the trajectory of their careers.”

Milicic said when he was coach of the Matildas, the players were in a “comfort zone” in terms of their club careers.

“It was half a year in Australia, half a year in America, it was summer, it was English speaking, it was dominating in those leagues and I really felt that the team, as individuals, as players, needed to make that step to Europe,” he said.

“If you look at how many of these players are dominating (in Europe) now, they are able to take their club’s form into the national team and at the same time their level of professionalism has increased.”

The former Socceroos striker said it was a “privilege” for China to play against a Matildas team preparing for the Paris Olympics, which begin in July.

Current Matildas boss Tony Gustavsson said “about 14 or 15” places in Australia’s 18-man Olympic squad were “safe”.
He said there remained a “question mark” over the fitness of key midfielder Katrina Gorry, who was left out of the squad due to an ankle injury.

“The other (three or four) spots are up for grabs and there are a lot of players competing for them – that’s the difficult part,” Gustavsson said.

“The worst thing about being a head coach is having to tell someone at the end of the week that they are not going to be in the Olympics.

“We’ve had almost four years to prepare for this and get to know the players we have. I’ve had this team for a long time now.

“The game (on Friday) is a big step in preparation for the Olympic Games, not only from an individual selection point of view, but also for team preparation.

“We don’t have that many games left to prepare for the Olympics.”

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