Matildas coach Ante Milicic tells team to believe in themselves

“I am so busy that I don’t have time to look back at it all,” Milicic said. “I understand that’s how Australian football is and that’s how we work and operate. That’s why [I ask] can these 23 girls block out all of the outside noise? Are they mentally strong enough to do that? I hope they are, and in the end time will tell.

”Everything that’s occurred around this group… I know it’s difficult for them, but I really hope that in the next couple of games they can show what kind of a great team they really are.

”When I took the role I understood it wasn’t going into a smooth situation [but] I won’t give up, I won’t stop fighting.”

Milicic emphasised that his team had the chance to achieve something special.

”I am just here to provide them with a platform and to do the best job I possibly can,” Milicic said.

”It’s all about them, they have worked so hard to be in this position, and these opportunities don’t come around too much in a lifetime.

”Now it’s up to these girls in the next two games to really show what they are made of, and I am confident of what they are because I really believe in them as characters and I am sure they are going to put on a good performance in the next two games.”

Milicic will monitor the fitness of key players Lisa De Vanna, Caitlin Foord and defender Clare Polkinghorne, but is confident that experienced midfielder Elise Kellond-Knight has overcome the fitness issues that have been restricting her, and that she is now ready to start.

She came off the bench late in the match against Italy, but her calm presence at the base of midfield will be needed against Brazil.

”She has been [crucial] since day one. She’s a natural six [holding midfielder] and in the way we want to play, she’s very comfortable, she’s an intelligent player and has good decision-making on the ball and provides us with good cover. KK is important but we work with what we have available.”

Milicic is aware of the criticism he and his team have attracted for their tactical approach and the manner of the defeat against Italy, but he is confident that his approach will reap dividends in the long run.

”We dominated possession. We dominated shots on goal and we dominated territory.

”In the end we created enough chances to win the game but unfortunately we’ve made an error in build-up. That happens.

”We’ve made an individual error and we’ve conceded from a set piece and lost the game. We’ve been punished for that.

”I really feel like we deserved something from the game but that’s the World Cup. We got nothing.”

The criticism, he says is ”understandable” but, he points out ”at the same time, it’s not now after one game that we’re thinking we need to tweak things.

”We’ve been working on things and we’ve conceded from a set piece. We’ve been working on that all along. We work on our defensive structure. We could have executed that a little bit better. We are working on these things. It’s taken a little bit more time than expected. The girls understand. The information is clear. We’re looking to make it right against Brazil.”

It was, he conceded, a different experience for the Matildas to enter the tournament as one of the favourites, and it did mean the players had to deal with the weight of expectation from the public at home.

He refuted any suggestion that his side – ranked six in the world – had been complacent before taking on the 15th ranked Italians.

”Australia is so used to being an underdog, coming in where you’re not expected to do as well.

”There’s been a lot of talk around this group for a while now about the expectation. So it’s different.

‘At the same time, never did we underestimate our opponent. There was no complacency. I wouldn’t say being overconfident or having a lack of respect was a reason we lost that game.”

Michael Lynch is The Age’s chief soccer reporter and also reports on motor sport and horseracing

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