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Milicic urges Matildas to hold heads high

Nice: A devastated Ante Milicic paid tribute to his Australian side after they were eliminated from the FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 in a heartbreaking penalty shootout defeat to Norway on Saturday.

The Matildas overcame the concession of an early Isabella Herlovsen goal, and the extra-time sending off of Alanna Kennedy to force penalties after an epic 1-1 draw.

However, unsuccessful spot-kicks from Sam Kerr and Emily Gielnik proved to be too much overcome in the shootout.

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Shattered to have seen Australia’s.World Cup dream disappear in front of his eyes, MIlicic said he hadn’t yet summoned the words with which to debrief with his players, who he urged to bounce back quickly.

“Those things, you don’t rehearse,” he said. “It’s too emotional and there’s too much disappointment in me to come with up with some words but I will say is it’s been an honour to work with this group.

“They’re a special bunch of girls and they’ve grown ever so close to me. I’m just disappointed that I couldn’t help them realise a dream they’ve been waiting for a long time, and in the end I take responsibility for that. I just hope that tomorrow they can pick themselves up and carry on."

“We gave everything, and we did whatever we could and that hurts because I feel like we deserved more, but that’s why we were obsessed with this game, because anything’s possible. I won’t fall in love with the game after tonight. That hurt me.”

Matildas captain and star player, Kerr came into the match fresh from bagging an Australian World Cup record four-goal haul against Jamaica, but it was her wayward penalty that dealt a blow from which her side were unable to recover.

Eager to reject any notion that Kerr bore responsibility for the defeat, Milicic paid tribute to the striker.

“I’m extremely proud of Sam and as an Australian coach, to be able work with her has been an excellent experience for me,” he said.

“All I will say is; only big players can miss penalties, because small ones don’t take them.”

Australia’s elimination ends a tournament which had never quite gone to plan, with a surprise 2-1 defeat to Italy making life difficult in the group stage, and injuries to a number of players – particularly in defence – forcing Milicic and his staff into a juggling act to get a functional team on the pitch.

The former Socceroo said the disparate level of match fitness among his squad prior to the tournament is an area that requires renewed focus, but can’t be used to justify their Round of 16 exit.

“When I first tried to put the squad together, we had Kyah Simon (miss the tournament through injury, pictured above), then we had the Laura Alleway injury,” he said.

“A lot of girls didn’t get the football they need before the tournament, and I think that’s something that we as a national team need to look at their choices of the destination of where they play their club football."

“Ultimately, we came into a game today where we had players who didn’t have the cohesion together as a team, but what we all thought was the strongest possible starting 11 for this game.

“It’s frustrating, but we don’t make excuses, I’m sure a couple of other teams missed out a couple (of players), so it is what it is, we just keep moving forward as a team.”

Photos: FIFA via Getty Images, AFP

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