MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Embattled Australia coach Tony Gustavsson has all but settled on his squad for the women's World Cup and told fringe players they face an uphill battle to break into the side.
Gustavsson was criticised heavily for playing an experimental side in a 7-0 defeat to Spain in June, the Matildas' worst loss in a quarter of a century.
On Thursday, the Swede recalled striker Sam Kerr and a slew of experienced players in a 23-woman squad for two friendlies against Canada next month, and said he had "drawn a line in the sand" in his preparations for next year's World Cup.
"You've seen in these last 18 months we've had 17 debutants," he told reporters in a video call.
"We've used the national team almost as a development platform - which it normally isn't.
"We looked back on the 18 months ... and then said, OK, let's draw a line in the sand and now narrow down the focus on the core group of players.
"That doesn't mean the door is completely closed for other players but it's going to be much more difficult to be selected to the national team now."
Gustavsson took the Matildas to their first Olympic semi-final in Tokyo last year but their results under the Swede have been disappointing as Australia prepare to co-host the World Cup with New Zealand.
The Matildas have struggled against Europe's top sides and crashed out of the quarter-finals of the women's Asian Cup in India in January.
Gustavsson said his players and staff had complete faith in how the squad was shaping up, even if the public did not.
"Outside, maybe I haven't been good enough to explain what we've done and why it looked like it has and maybe that's where I can do a better job," he said.
"I understand that outside maybe it needs to be good results to gain back the faith."
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)