Women’s Asian Cup: Australia take on Indonesia with focus on final (preview)

As they gear up for their opening match in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup 2022 against Indonesia on Friday, Australia are also looking ahead to their two major targets — to wrest back the Continental crown they had last won in 2010 and to win the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2023 which they will co-host with neighbours New Zealand.

Finalists in the last two editions of the Asian Cup in 2014 and 2018, Australia are one of the favourites to win the title on February 6 but coach Tony Gustavsson is not ready to talk about the final so early and said they will take it match by match.

The Matildas are clearly the favourites to win Friday’s match as they are the highest-ranked team in this event and have a huge advantage over their opponents in terms of the rankings — Australia are ranked 11th while Indonesia are 96th in the FIFA World Rankings.

But Gustavsson said he is impressed by Indonesia’s progress in recent times and was looking forward to Friday’s encounter at the Mumbai Football Arena here.

“I am very impressed and happy about the development that Indonesia have shown and I congratulate them for a good qualifying round going into the tournament,” the 48-year-old former Swedish player told reporters during a virtual media conference on Thursday.

“One of the things we really worked hard on going into this game is how we can stop their counterattack, because the one thing that can really hurt us is if we lose the ball in bad areas and they can attack with technique and pace. We need to play our ‘A’ game.

“The other thing we need to be mindful about is that we are going to play an Indonesian team which is extremely motivated, is going to represent their country with pride and is going to work extremely hard here, so we need to be humble and ready to really play our game,” he added.

Australia, on a high since finishing fourth in the Tokyo Olympics, have brought a strong team to the competition with 10 of the Matildas players plying their skills in the Women’s Super League, the Premier League equivalent for women footballers.

Asked whether he would be putting his strongest side in the opener against Indonesia or he will rotate his players and preserve them for tougher battles ahead in the event, Gustavsson said the side that he will put in the park will be the strongest for the day.

“Its not just about putting up the strongest side, it’s about winning the tournament and not just one match, so the team we put up will be the strongest for that day. Our focus is on winning this opening game and we are thinking about it that’s the focus now. We definitely are gonna have a strong team on the park tomorrow,” he said.

They also had a good build up for the Asian Cup despite the Covid-19 pandemic as they had played two friendlies apiece against Brazil and the United States, the reigning World Champions, in October-November 2021.

However, dispite the huge disparity,their opponents Indonesia are undaunted by the task they face. The lowest-ranked team in the tournament, few expect Rudy Eka Priyambada’s side to challenge the world number 11 Matildas, but the Indonesian coach is setting no limits on what his side can achieve in the weeks ahead.

“Impossible is nothing. We have to focus on the first game, and then we have the matches against Thailand and the Philippines,” he said. “I think nothing is impossible if we give our best.

“(Qualifying for the FIFA Women’s) World Cup is our dream. The coaches dream, and the players dream of playing in the World Cup. We have to prove it on the field.”

He said playing the top-ranked team is motivation for his team.

“It’s a motivation for us. We have to prove that Indonesian women can play at the international level, the high level. I believe we can prove it to them. Don’t give us big expectations, just let the players play the game,” said the Indonesia boss.

The two sides have never met at the full international level, although a senior Indonesian side played the Australian U-20 national team during the 2015 AFF Championship, where the Young Matildas swept to a commanding 7-0 win.

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