There’s a fine line between being upbeat about a last-gasp loss and not facing reality.
For the Matildas the ‘aw shucks’ shrugs in the shell-shocked aftermath of the final-minute loss against Italy seem to indicate a confidence that belies the recent results on pitch.
Having been put away 3-0 by the Netherlands in a warm up and then failing to show up in the second half against Italy, the Matildas now face the task of getting out of the World Cup group stage – although that’s just fine with skipper Sam Kerr.
In Australia’s six previous outings at the World Cup, the Matildas have just one opening-match win – yet they’ve reached the quarter-finals three times.
In 2015, they were soundly beaten by eventual winners USA 3-1, before bouncing back to defeat Nigeria 2-0 in their next match.
Coach Ante Milicic referred to their tricky path out of the group as “the Australian way”.
“(Ante) thinks it’s going to be the hard way? Yeah, it is,” an upbeat Kerr said after the upset 2-1 loss to Italy.
But we did this last World Cup and got through and we are still so confident that we’ll get through.”
Milicic’s side were humbled 2-1 in Valenciennes on Sunday by a team making its World Cup return after a 20-year break.
The high defensive line employed by Milicic nearly cost Australia dearly, with two Italy goals on the counter ruled out by marginal offside calls.
Emily van Egmond was again error-strewn in possession, while the much-vaunted Matildas front line is yet to gel.
Within minutes of the final whistle, brickbats flew at the team and particularly Milicic, who watched his side continually caught out at the back.
Matildas legend Heather Garriock, who played at three World Cups and is now Canberra United coach, labelled the match “disastrous”.
“I’m so upset. More for the style in which we played the second half … this high line is absolutely ridiculous,” she said on Optus Sport.
“If you think as a coach you can come in and change your philosophy, and change the style within five matches. We have just been crucified, not once but twice.
“If we had a better side playing against us tonight it would have been more than five. I’m so disappointed.”
Milicic could see the problems and said this week will be about fixing them.
“When we played our football we looked decent, but it was only in patches,” he said.
“We need to be a little bit more brave and composed on the ball.
“We need to have a better understanding when to drop and when to stay high, and the position of the goalkeeper.”
Forward Caitlin Foord suggested the Matildas, who have enjoyed Milicic’s tactical tweaks since he took over in February, weren’t for turning.
“No World Cup is won on the first game,” she said.
“There’s a lot of positives to take.
“We’re here to play our style of football … we believe that will win us the World Cup, so we’ll keep doing that.”
The former Socceroos assistant coach defended Clare Polkinghorne’s calamitous error of turning over the ball without any pressure to allow Italy to equalise.
“Clare is brave to do that. We are not going to change our style because we have conceded a goal,” Milicic said.
“I will always believe in that style. That’s the style we want to progress up the field. We just need to get better at it and better at it quickly.”
Australia’s next match is at Montpellier, where they face Brazil, which thrashed Jamaica 3-0 on Sunday.
“We’ve still got two more games to get out of the group,” Kerr said.
“We just lost in the last moment, but I think we dominated the game.
“We feel really confident still. There’s a lot of positives. We’ll stick together and go on to Brazil.”