Relief for FFA as Matildas take Cup of Nations title

New tournament, new coach and a fresh start for the Australian women’s national team after the dramatic dismissal of former head coach Alen Stajcic just five months before the World Cup. Flo Lloyd-Hughes takes a closer look at the Cup of Nations.

The FFA (Football Federation Australia) must be breathing a sigh of relief after the Matildas claimed the inaugural Cup of Nations in Melbourne last week.

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The friendly tournament was launched by the association as a rival to the She Believes and Algarve cups that have dominated in this international window in recent years.

The sacking of Stajcic just weeks before the start of the tournament, and more importantly the World Cup, thrust the much maligned FFA into the spotlight again.

FFA under fire

Last year, the FFA was locked in a stand-off with FIFA after it refused to make amendments to its constitution – mainly on increasing the size of its congress which was one of the smallest in world football.

The impasse had been led by Steven Lowy, the then chairman of the FFA and a member of the family that had been at the top of Australian soccer for the last 15 years.

In October, Lowy finally accepted changes to the association’s constitution and the growth of the FFA congress from 10 to 29 members.

After weathering that political storm, the FFA found itself in hot water just a few months later with Stajcic’s departure taking many by surprise.

Matildas rise

The Matildas, ranked sixth in the world, were riding high, had gained national prominence and started to receive global plaudits. NWSL record-breaker Sam Kerr has taken her seat at the top table of women’s sport with some lucrative endorsement deals.

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Then came the news that Stajcic was being relieved of his duties. Before the FFA could even begin damage control, players were tweeting about their shock and disappointment.

As the news cycle evolved it was revealed that the FFA had made the decision based on two separate investigations showing a “toxic culture” that Stajcic was allegedly overseeing alongside his coaching staff.

A great number of in-depth pieces about the culture issues within the team have been written by journalists in Australia and all shine a light on the complex issues behind a seemingly successful team.

Women’s World Cup challengers

Now, the commentary is slowly turning towards the World Cup and preparations under Ante Milicic, who is new to the women’s game but has arrived with a solid CV.

The Matildas breezed to victory in the Cup of Nations, winning all three fixtures and only conceding one goal. However, the tournament didn’t provide much of a challenge.

Brazil will be the biggest threat to Australia’s progression from Group C at the Women’s World Cup, but the latter’s squad is getting stronger by the day.

Emily Gielnik and Caitlin Foord are coming off the back of great domestic seasons in the W-League and taking the pressure off Kerr up front. A solid and physical back four are also providing stability.

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The Cup of Nations didn’t pass by without the FFA’s blushes. The opening double-header game had to be moved because of safety concerns about the Jubilee Stadium pitch.

Despite the chaos, a total of 25,000 people turned up to watch the team play across the three days.

The FFA may continue to provide an embarrassing backdrop to the Matilda’s performances, but hopefully its blunders don’t distract the world’s best from putting on a show in France.

You can follow Flo on Twitter @FloydTweet

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