Milicic’s blunt message: We must up the Ante
MATILDAS coach Ante Milicic has warned his players to correct the team's lingering defensive fallibilities ahead of a potential torrid World Cup run.
Yes, beating Brazil was brilliant and featured flashes of Australia's trademark attacking fluidity.
But the coach still sees defensive fallibilities requiring attention ahead of up to three games in 10 days, starting with Wednesday morning's (AEST) final, decisive group clash against Jamaica in Grenoble.
"My feeling is that we're going to get better as we keep going in the tournament, but at the same time there's definitely some areas we need to improve on, and improve on quickly," Milicic said.
"At the moment we're still getting punished and we're doing things awfully difficult.
"The Brazil win doesn't mean we have achieved anything in the tournament, this win means we've now started the tournament.
"We've put ourselves in a position now where it's in our hands to win the next game and progress to the next round.
"As we stand here today we haven't qualified for the next round, let's not forget that.
"We have to earn the right to be in the round of 16 ... we are not looking at the scenarios, we're just focused on ourselves and we really want to put in a good performance."
While that may be the case, it'd be remiss not to have one eye on the knockout stages.
An unlikely first-place finish would reap the reward of a seven-day turnaround and an easier opponent - potentially Nigeria, China or Chile - back in Montpellier.
Finish second and it's a four-day back-up in Nice, likely against Norway or Nigeria.
And, should the Matildas squeeze through as one of the better third-placed teams, a far tougher assignment awaits against heavyweight hosts France in Le Havre.
Not that they're afraid.
"If that came to it, bring it on," said forward Emily Gielnik.
"I'd love to play France. Like, why not knock off the world No.1 in their own country?
"That's such a big challenge and if that comes to us the last thing we want to be is fearful of that."
With all that in mind, Milicic must decide whether to field his strongest XI against Jamaica or shuffle the decks to rest weary legs.
Key trio Emily van Egmond, Chloe Logarzo and Ellie Carpenter sat out training yesterday and Elise Kellond-Knight peeled off on her own for at least part of the session, though Milicic said it was all precautionary and part of the plan.
"I wouldn't use the word rotate, but will look to see how well the girls pull up knowing we are potentially looking at three games in 10 days," he said.
"We have got to try, as much as possible, to adjust loads to give us the best chance of performing on matchday … that's the reason behind a few girls not training, and they completed a different type of session this morning."
Milicic said Kellond-Knight had pulled up "incredible" but hinted the midfielder cum makeshift left-back could be given a short spell to recharge.
If that's the case he may opt to play Gema Simon, who filled the position against the United States in April.
There's also the question of whether 19-year-old workhorse Ellie Carpenter will be given a rest, having racked up plenty of kilometres on the right flank over 180 minutes, though may decide against two less-experienced fullbacks at the same time.
Milicic confirmed Steph Catley will again deputise in central defence while Clare Polkinghorne continues her recovery from hamstring tightness.
Teenage sensation Mary Fowler is back in full training following her own hamstring issue and coming close to contention.