By David Jordan
With the Matildas squad all set for the Olympics in Rio, Australian football fans can get set for another dose of international competition featuring some of our finest talents. In recent months however, the Matildas have been working with the next generation of young male footballers at the Australian Institute of Sport, forming a valuable relationship between the grassroots and the elite level.
The week before selection, the Matildas wrapped up another training camp, the fifth such camp organised this year after the ASC announced a warmly welcomed boost of funding for the side in the lead up to the Olympics. During each camp, the group played two matches against youngsters from the CU Academy, formerly known as ACTAS, in a bid to benefit both sides. Matildas head coach Alen Stajcic was full of praise for the camps themselves, but also for the opposition provided.
“Every day you have together as is invaluable, and we’re very fortunate that the Sports Commission found some extra funding for us to have these extra five camps down here in Canberra,” he said. “We’re very lucky down here. We’ve got a fantastic relationship with both the Centre of Excellence and ACTAS.”
The camp matches provide a great opportunity to get squad members in from their club commitments ahead of the Olympic Games and allow Stajcic to work on fundamentals with the group. “We’re at the point of selection now, and I know we have got a good foundation, for the group, technically and tactically going into our camp in Brazil this week,” he said.
Stajcic was full of praise for Pat McCann, Assistant Technical Director at the CU Academy, for his organisation of matches at the camps with the youngsters. McCann believes it is all just one great opportunity to create a link through Australian football.
“I think it’s an enormous opportunity for our boys, not just to play another game,” he said “but to play another game against a highly organised and well-structured team that in a lot of ways matches the playing style that we are trying to exhibit.
The role that the youngsters are playing in an Olympic Campaign is not lost on them, with McCann saying that many of the boys are avid followers of the Matildas side. McCann, who coaches Canberra United Academy in the PlayStation 4 National Premier Leagues: Canberra, also spoke glowingly of the benefits of the continuing relationship.
“As much as it’s an advantage for them, it’s a huge advantage for us to be able to play a part,” he said. “Number one, in getting our players to understand that they have an obligation to give back to the game, and number two, it basically speaks for the structure that is being put in place. Ultimately we are all responsible for delivering a national team program no matter what level we work at. Whether that’s at grassroots, at our own level or for national teams. If we can all work together to make better players then it works for everybody.”
And while the brisk Canberra evenings were not exactly mirrors of the Olympic climate, Stajcic was not concerned as he looked ahead to the Matildas clash with host nation Brazil later this month.
“That’s our last international before we play Canada so a very important match for us to fine-tune all our specs of our preparation,” he said. “Players will be fighting for spots for that first game against Canada ten days after that match. We’re honoured to be able to play Brazil in Brazil, and it is just another vital component of our preparation.”