2011 in review

After a big year for the Westfield W-League and the Matildas, it's time to reflect on our successes and plan for the future.

With a FIFA Women-s World Cup (WWC), Olympic Qualifiers, and our very own Westfield W-League season playing out, 2011 was a massive year for women-s football in Australia. Girls FC asked Westfield Matildas head coach Tom Sermanni to review the year.

In part one of a two-part series, Sermanni rates the Westfield Matildas- WWC and Olympic Qualifiers performances, and outlines what 2012 and beyond hold for the team.

How would you assess our FIFA Women-s World Cup (WWC) performance?

Overall I consider our WWC outcome a successful one, although we did feel a sense of frustration at a lost opportunity to go further in the tournament.

I was delighted with how we approached every game with a positive attacking mindset, intent on playing attractive football and winning matches, regardless of the opposition.

Although statistics can be misleading, it-s worthwhile noting that in all of our matches we had more possession than the opposition. This highlights that we were very competitive in some elite company.

This becomes more significant when you consider we went into the tournament with an average squad age of 21, including six teenagers, and two players (Kyah Simon and Tameka Butt) who turned 20 only days before the event started.

These youngsters played a major role in the team throughout the tournament, with five of them featuring in our first match against Brazil. Most other teams were considerably older and more experienced. DPR Korea and Columbia, the two other young squads at the tournament, never won a game or scored a goal in the tournament.

Caitlin Foord was the success story of the WWC. Her performances captivated the viewing public at home, the crowds attending matches, and the FIFA Technical Study Group. She was a worthy winner of the inaugural Young Player of Tournament award.

For an Australian player to receive this award ahead of more fancied players and more established countries is an enormous tribute to Caitlin. It-s also a compliment to the work being done in our programs to identify and develop our young players.

Elise Kellond-Knight was also worthy of her selection in the FIFA All-Star Team. Never flustered, her quality and composure made her the best attacking full back at the WWC.

Like most tournaments, unless you end up winning it, there are always disappointments and what-could have-beens. Uncharacteristic unforced errors, by normally extremely reliable players, cost us critical goals.

This was highlighted in our quarterfinal loss to Sweden. Although down 2-1 at half time, we were extremely confident of winning the game; however, conceding a soft third goal effectively ended our campaign.

What was your impression of the WWC?

This was undoubtedly the best WWC in the history of the competition, made so through impeccable organisation, superb stadiums, full houses, and knowledgeable crowds.

This tournament also underlined the arrival of technical football, replacing physical football. It was the first WWC where games were not decided by the physical inequalities between teams. The success of Japan has heralded a new age and direction for women-s football.

Missing out on Olympic qualification was disappointing and controversial. What were your views on this tournament?

With only two spots available, Olympic qualification was always going to be challenging. But we have high expectations and a group of very ambitious players who strive for success, so we were extremely disappointed to narrowly miss out on qualification.

I was, however, very proud of the way our players reacted after losing matches against Japan and DPR Korea. To rebound and win all the other matches to finish third highlighted the character and ability of our players.

Two aspects of the tournament, though, left us with a feeling of frustration and dissatisfaction: First, the timing of the event so soon after the WWC was poorly thought out, making effective preparation difficult, especially with such a young squad.

More controversial, however, was the situation surrounding DPR Korea. FIFA moved quickly to suspend DPR Korea from participating in the 2015 WWC after they tested positive for systematic doping at the 2011 WWC, thus protecting the integrity of that tournament.

The expectation from all teams involved in the Olympic Qualifiers was that this suspension would automatically include the 2012 London Olympics. That unfortunately wasn-t the case.

Furthermore, it was astounding that, despite the positive drug test results returned by DPR Korea just weeks before, the AFC did not deem it necessary to drug test at the qualification tournament.

Much to everyone-s bewilderment, neither the IOC nor WADA have so far taken any action.

Whether this is through a lack of power or lack of fortitude to confront a tricky predicament, only they can answer; however, given the rhetoric and purported tough stance these organisations claim to have against the use of illegal substances, their inaction is particularly disappointing. Let-s hope their indecision does not come back to haunt them in London.

What does 2012 (and beyond) hold for the Westfield Matildas?

This year will be the beginning of the process to prepare and qualify for the 2015 WWC. Although qualification is a couple of years off, the time will pass very quickly and we need to be ready to go.

Given the lack of official tournaments for us in 2012, I envisage several players will use the opportunity to gain experience in overseas leagues; however, it is also important that we don-t lose the momentum we-ve built up over the past few years.

Competition in the international game is stronger than it-s ever been, and we could easily drop off the pace and lose traction against the many ambitious countries looking to make an impact.

Overall, though, I am optimistic about the future of the Westfield Matildas. We have a talented and ambitious group of players and fierce competition for places in the squad. Our future is bright and with sound preparation we should be set to make a significant impact in the next WWC in Canada in 2015.

Read part two of Tom's column on footballaustralia.com.au tomorrow.