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Milicic appointed to help Steel Roses blossom

Former Matildas boss to mount China's Asian Cup defense, develop new talent

By LI YINGXUE | China Daily | Updated: 2024-05-14 09:04
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Ante Milicic reacts during a match. [Photo/Agencies]

China has appointed Ante Milicic as its new coach for the women's national soccer team. The 50-year-old Australian succeeds Shui Qingxia, after her departure from the position in November 2023.

With the Steel Roses missing out on the Paris Olympics, the new coach's primary objective is to ready the team for its Women's Asian Cup title defense in Australia in 2026 and to qualify for the 2027 FIFA Women's World Cup.

Official Sina Weibo account announced the appointment of the former coach of the Australian women's national soccer team — nicknamed the "Matildas" — on Saturday.

China's former head coach, Shui, who assumed her position in November 2021, saw her tenure come to an end after barely two years following underwhelming performances in the Women's World Cup, Asian Games, and Olympic qualifiers.

In March, the Chinese Football Association launched the formal recruitment process to find her replacement. A total of 41 foreign coaches and one Chinese coach applied for the position.

Following several rigorous rounds of interviews and evaluations, three candidates emerged as finalists. Among them were Milicic and another former Matildas coach, Alen Stajcic, alongside Nils Nielsen, the current Danish director of football for Manchester City's women's team.

During the interview process, candidates were tasked with articulating their coaching philosophies, conducting a thorough analysis of the current state of the Chinese women's team, and outlining their strategies for future improvement. They were also required to select and analyze two recent matches, identifying key problems and proposing solutions.

After careful consideration, the CFA chose Milicic, who becomes the first foreign coach appointed by the Steel Roses since the departure of Iceland's Sigurdur Ragnar Eyjolfsson in 2018.

Officials from the CFA emphasized that Milicic's rich coaching background and modern philosophy are in line with the development trends of soccer.

His experience as a high-level assistant coach on men's soccer teams aligns well with the current training needs of Chinese women's soccer, the CFA said.

Milicic boasts an extensive playing career, having competed in elite leagues in Australia, the Netherlands and Croatia. He also earned a spot on the Australian men's senior national team, nicknamed the "Socceroos".

Following his transition to coaching, he has led both the Australian U-23 and U-19 men's national sides. Additionally, as an assistant coach, he played a pivotal role during two World Cup campaigns under two Socceroos coaches, Ange Postecoglou — who is currently managing Tottenham Hotspur in the English Premier League — and Bert van Marwijk.

He was also part of the coaching team that contributed to the Socceroos' triumph in the AFC Asian Cup in 2015.

In February 2019, Milicic assumed the position of head coach of the Australian women's national team, guiding it to the round of 16 in the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup in France.

During the group stage of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics qualifiers in February 2020, the Australians rescued a 1-1 draw against the Steel Roses with a last-gasp equalizer in Sydney. Subsequently, under Milicic's leadership, the team successfully secured its spot in the Tokyo Olympics.

As a result of the Chinese women's failure to qualify for the Paris Olympics last November, the team has no major tournaments until the 2026 AFC Women's Asian Cup. This allows Milicic ample time to scout talent and refine the team.

Milicic, known for his attacking soccer philosophy and attention to detail, has a history of nurturing talented young players in both Australian men's and women's soccer, many of whom became key players for their respective national squads.

It is hoped that, with Milicic's expertise, the Chinese women's team can make a seamless transition between generations and accelerate the development of more young players.

Milicic's inaugural match as head coach will see him face off against his former charges. Invited by Football Australia, the Steel Roses are set to embark on a tour to Adelaide and Sydney, playing two friendly matches against the Matildas on May 31 and June 3.

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