Of course, not everything matches up so perfectly with Gustavsson’s plans to treat this as a World Cup run-through. For instance, if there were points on the line, he would roll out his best available team – but three members of his squad have already been ruled out of their opening clash with Czechia by his medical team. (He did, however, refuse to say who they were or even if they were regular starters; a little taste, perhaps, of the media games expected from the Swede in the tournament proper.)
Gustavsson also has to manage growing concerns around a lack of game time for more than half of his 26-player squad. Seven of them haven’t played a minute for their clubs in the last three months, he said, and a further eight have only played less than five games – so some might be gifted a run in the Cup of Nations which, at the World Cup, they may not have earned, or deserved, simply because they need to play to be ready for it.
He admitted it was a worry that some of his stars – like Hayley Raso, who has started only one game for Manchester City this season – are spending so much time on the bench at their clubs.
“I don’t want to over-emphasise this to put stress on the players. It’s just what it is,” he said.
“Everyone knows that if players get a lot of minutes in top clubs in top leagues, that helps the national team. If they get less minutes, or are playing lesser-ranked leagues or at less good clubs, it’s going to influence their own development. All we do is try to help the players to maximise their potential. Selection is not until June, it’s way too soon to talk about that.”
One player whose form and minutes he doesn’t have to worry about is Sam Kerr, who as usual comes into Matildas camp on the back of some ripping form for Chelsea.
“If you ask Sam, she never needs a rest. She wants to play every single minute of every game,” Gustavsson said. “I hope she can keep showing that [form] for the national team.”
Meanwhile, Spain coach Jorge Vilda bristled at what he said were “disrespectful” questions from the media about the 15 stars who have excluded themselves from national team selection indefinitely due to a dispute over his methods.
“I’m asking for respect for my team. We’re preparing for the World Cup, and your question seems to me to show disrespect to the team,” Vilda, speaking through an interpreter, said when asked why those players were missing.
“I have the best team that I want to train, nothing else. Spain always has great aspirations [to win a World Cup], like Australia, Germany, France, these are all teams with aspirations.”
2023 CUP OF NATIONS
Match Day One
Date: Thursday, 16 February 2023
Venue: Industree Group Stadium, Gosford, NSW
Match One: Spain v Jamaica – 4.10pm kick-off AEDT
Match Two: Matildas v Czechia – 7.10pm
Match Day Two
Date: Sunday, 19 February 2023
Venue: CommBank Stadium, Sydney, NSW
Match One: Jamaica v Czechia – 2.50pm
Match Two: Matildas v Spain – 6.00pm
Match Day Three
Date: Wednesday, 22 February 2023
Venue: McDonald Jones Stadium, Newcastle, NSW
Match One: Czechia v Spain – 2.30pm
Match Two: Matildas v Jamaica – 7.10pm
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