Believe in yourself. Trust the game plan. It’s life or death. The Matildas enter their Olympic campaign with a simple message drilled into them by coach Tony Gustavsson. They’ll take into Wednesday’s opening match (10pm kick-off AEST) against traditional rivals New Zealand.
Training in the baking Tokyo heat on Tuesday, the Matildas were put through their paces for 90 minutes in an energy-sapping session — before Gustavsson dragged them into a circle and rammed home his final message.
The eruption of applause after the coach finished spoke more about the squad’s optimism than any of their recent on-field results. Kayo is your ticket to the best local and international sport streaming Live & On-Demand. New to Kayo? Try 14-days free now >
“Any game in any big tournament, you’ve got to treat it as life and death,” said veteran Aivi Luik. “When you’re playing a rival like New Zealand and a longtime rival, you’ve got to go into the game 110%, and that’s what we’re going to do (on Wednesday).
“We’re already, we’ve been training hard, been prepping for a long time together. We’re waiting for that final whistle, in we go, and just trust our game plan.”
One thing is sure: Olympic debutant Luik will leave nothing out on the pitch. At 36, she’s the oldest member of the Matildas and admits she thought her Olympic hopes had evaporated after missing the boat in 2016 for the Rio Games.
Indeed, her concerns rose to another level when Tokyo was postponed by 12 months due to Covid. But the veteran midfield-turned-defensive powerhouse will be charged with leading the defensive line for Gustavsson as the Matildas seek to tighten up at the back after some porous displays.
“It was always my goal to eventually play in an Olympics. Towards the last few years, if I’m being honest, I definitely had doubts — for the obvious reasons,” Luik explained. “Missing out on the last one, and having this Olympics pushed back another year because of Covid, there were definitely uncertainties.”
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Luik, a winner at every level in a career that’s taken her to success in the A-League and across Europe, had a weight lifted from her shoulders when she received her ticket to Tokyo. But it came with a tinge of sadness for those who were treading the path she’d walked when the Rio Olympics raged on.
“It was incredible. My initial reaction … I can’t put it into words,” she explained. “I was overjoyed, elated, really happy. In a sense there was a small weight lifted off my shoulders just to know I’d made that step — obviously it’s just the very first step of an Olympic campaign, making the squad.
“In the same moment, I also had some sad emotions and feelings to think of the girls who had gotten cut before I found out I was in. That was pretty tough because I’ve been there before and it’s really tough. This is what we live for as athletes. Everyone wants to be in the Olympics, so to have a dream crushed at that moment is very hard.”