Matildas star Caitlin Foord chats to The Early Kick-Off, tonight, 6pm AEDT, beIN 3 | Foxtel, Kayo, Fetch & CONNECT
Four months ago the stats on coach Tony Gustavsson’s Matildas reign were troubling, but key striker Caitlin Foord never doubted the Swede would find a way to plot a winning course with the FIFA Women’s World Cup just around the corner.
A quartet of victories have shifted perceptions and engendered positivity ahead of the July-August event on home soil, with February’s three-game Cup of Nations tournament providing another platform for the reinvigorated ‘Tildas to shave off any stubborn rough edges.
Dubbed the “Tinker Man” for his seemingly ceaseless personnel changes during his now 30-game stint in charge of possibly Australia’s most beloved national team, Gustavsson’s soufflé is beginning to rise.
The question marks after a run of 13 losses from his first 26 games in charge have evaporated off the back of wins over South Africa, Denmark, Sweden and Thailand, cohesion replacing confusion, consistency trumping fragmentation.
Gustavsson has handed out more debuts than any other coach before him since taking charge in September 2020.
But there’s a method to the madness, with Arsenal Women striker Foord gratified that experimentation is finally beginning to yield results.
“Tony, when he came in, had the home World Cup to build towards and I guess he wanted see and bring in as many players as possible to have in his head that he’d everybody a chance,” Foord said. “If think he wanted to give players the opportunity to try and make an impression to work towards the World Cup.
“Maybe at times it felt like a bit of transition period, with new faces coming in and having to go over the same information that we’d already been through.
“Perhaps that put us at a bit of a standstill for a bit, and it was frustrating at the time not to get results because as a national team we just want to win.
“We obviously had to stay patient with that and trust what was happening and I guess now it’s coming down to the pointy end coming into 2023.
“We want to build on those foundations and be flying when the World Cup comes around.”
With 22 goals in 101 Matildas appearances, Foord - along with the likes of the incomparable Sam Kerr - will loom large as a likely source of joy up front come the group duels with Republic of Ireland, Nigeria and Canada in July.
But first there’s the visit to Australia of Czech Republic, Spain and Jamaica next month to whet the appetite.
“Those are important games to see where we’re at where we need to do better,” she said. “In a tournament like the World Cup you need a really strong squad, that’s been shown in the past by previous winners and that’s what we’ve been working towards.
“Going in with the strongest 23 players will give us the best chance of going all the way.
“We never have that much time together and you always need to accomplish a lot quickly.
“As individuals at our clubs we do what we need to do but with the Matildas it’s about our team spirit and renewing our relationships. When we’re away from each other for a while sometimes it takes time to get going again.
“But we’ll have a long lead in to the World Cup and that’ll be beneficial.
“We still have plenty to work on and we have a tough group at the World Cup. Canada (who beat the Matildas twice in September) are Olympic gold medalists and they always go far into big tournaments. That’ll be a challenge.
“Nigeria, we’ve played them before (winning 2-0 at the group stage at the 2015 WWC) but it wasn’t easy at all. They’re very physical and also unpredictable and have some excellent players.
“In the case of Ireland, it’s their first World Cup and they’ve done amazing to get there, especially coming through Europe where it’s so tough.
“I’ve paid quite a bit of attention to them. They never give up and what they do works for them (as exemplified by a 3-2 victory over Australia back in 2021).
“They’ll make it difficult for us to break them down. They’re very different sorts of opponents and they’ll be different types of games.
“It’s natural the expectation will be on us being at home - the eyes will be on us and we know we’re expected to go deep into the tournament.”
Now in her third season with FA WSL powerhouse Arsenal, Foord believes she’s in her prime time at the age of 28.
“In terms of stats maybe last year was better - but with how I feel on the field right now I’m in the best form I’ve felt in ages,” she said. “I want to be hitting targets and feeling a certain way and I’m currently there right now.”