Since June 2020, when Football Federation Australia (now Football Australia) and New Zealand Football won the hosting rights to the 2023 Women’s World Cup, the Matildas have occupied a strange space. Every squad selection, team-sheet and tournament has been held to the light of the big picture, and short-term results have frayed.

The task and accompanying discussion is new ground for Australian football, and to this point Tony Gustavsson and his side have failed to strike the balance. A frazzled Olympics campaign won respectability late, but medals remained elusive. Few asked questions; there’s a bigger picture, remember?

Six months later, last weekend’s Asian Cup quarter-final loss to South Korea saw patience turn to panic. The Matildas scuffed numerous shots they would have buried on another day, but who can say that won’t happen again? How much longer can long termism excuse today? It’s proving hard to know where to look, and what to value as important.

‘[This result] speaks to the outcome dependency that we have when examining football… in a hypothetical environment in which the Matildas do have a couple of those chances fall their way and they advance to the semi-final… the narrative would have completely changed’, The Guardian and ESPN’s Joey Lynch told Box2Box.

‘We would have been talking about how this side is in good shape heading in towards a home women’s World Cup. But the problems in midfield and this one-notedness in attack, they still would have [been there]. Too often we are outcome focused, rather than process focussed.’

That certainly speaks to the school of thought which says Matildas considerations are being weighed too heavily towards the destination of the World Cup, rather than the journey. Perhaps it’s only now that they’ve been hit by a bus that it’s apparent focus has slipped from the steps along the way.

In the sobering weight of the early exit, questions have inevitably come for Gustavsson. Have we fallen for his association with the all-conquering US Women’s side, or is there real substance beneath his Lasso-like charm?

‘I don’t agree with switching coaches in the middle of a World Cup cycle, purely because I feel federations should have to live with the consequences of their own decisions. If they get the appointment wrong they should have to live with that, see it through, and then have judgement fall upon their and their coaches’ heads one way or another.

‘[But] let’s face it, they can’t play the way they are now and expect to challenge even mid-tier European sides. If the federation deems Gustavsson is not the individual to get that improvement out of them over the next eighteen months, I would say they have to move on him now.

‘They can not dilly dally, wait six months for a few more results and then decide, because any new coach that comes on will need as much time as possible.’

It’s just ticked past eighteen months since rights to the World Cup were secured. For the first time in a long time, time is a resource the Matildas no longer have in abundance.