Soccer: 'They love it': Matildas coach defends throwing rookies in at deep end

Soccer Football - FIFA Women's World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023 - Third Place Playoff - Sweden v Australia - Brisbane Stadium, Brisbane, Australia - August 19, 2023 Australia coach Tony Gustavsson REUTERS/Dan Peled/File photo

(Reuters) - Australia coach Tony Gustavsson has defended fielding rookie-laden teams against quality opposition after becoming a lightning rod for criticism following the Matildas' 5-0 thrashing by Olympic champions Canada.

The heavy defeat in a friendly last Friday in Langford, British Columbia was Australia's worst loss since a 7-0 hiding by Spain in June 2022.

Australian media slammed Gustavsson for picking an experimental side against the Canadians but the Swede said the players would benefit in the long run.

"I know some people will probably go like, 'Hey, is this fair to the players to give them this type of experience?,'" he told a press conference in Vancouver on Monday.

"They love it. This is what they want, they want to play against a top team, they want to learn.

"And as long as I make sure I create a safe space for them to get this experience, it's what they need."

With captain Sam Kerr and first-choice goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold injured, Gustavsson also rested top players Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley and Ellie Carpenter.

He is expected to revert to his strongest available team for the second match against the Canadians in Vancouver on Tuesday, which also doubles as Christine Sinclair's final international.

The BC Place stadium has been renamed Sinclair Place in honour of Canada's 40-year-old striker, who holds a world record 190 goals in internationals.

"Before the game I hope that we can be a part of honouring her because that real respect she deserves. I know the players want to do it as well," Gustavsson said.

"But the best way to respect her once the game starts is to make it a game, a proper game and really compete - because that's what she wants."

(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)

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