Having the Women’s World Cup on home soil has given Australia’s team the confidence it can contend for the title even without star striker Sam Kerr on the field.
The Chelsea forward and Australian captain missed the Matildas’ opening game last week because of a calf muscle injury that will also keep her sidelined for Thursday’s Group B game against Nigeria. And perhaps longer than that.
The Matildas are pitching it as a chance to show the depth of their squad.
“I think we could play any one of us right now in the starting 11 and it would be the same as what we do on the training pitch,” midfielder Tameka Yallop said from Australia’s team camp in Brisbane. “So I think everyone has that ability and capability to step up and be a star at any point.”
Steph Catley, wearing the captain’s armband in place of Kerr, converted a penalty kick for co-host Australia’s 1-0 opening win over Ireland. Despite the win, the Matildas’ offense struggled to create scoring opportunities, with only two shots on target.
Against a Nigeria team that held Canada to a scoreless draw in its Group B opener, Australia will need to prove that it has players throughout the team that can be difference-makers in Kerr’s absence.
“I think we’ve got the best squad that we’ve had,” Yallop said.
Building depth has been a priority for Tony Gustavsson throughout his first three years in charge of the Matildas. Shortly after he was hired, a December 2020 performance report released by Football Australia showed the program had the least overall depth of the 12 leading nations analyzed.
The Matildas’ struggles to replace injured defender Clare Polkinghorne during the 2019 Women’s World Cup contributed to their exit in the round of 16, their worst finish since 2003.
To prepare for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, the Matildas emphasized the development of young players. Gustavsson’s team has come a long way, and the growth of Cortnee Vine, Mary Fowler, Clare Hunt, Mackenzie Arnold, Charlotte Grant and Kyra Cooney-Cross into starting 11-caliber talents gives the team confidence moving forward.
The team knew it had the depth necessary to contend on the world stage in April when it beat European champion England 2-0 in a friendly.
“That’s the game where we all felt like it really clicked,” Grant said. “It’s amazing that we’ve built so much depth over the past one to two years.”
Australia’s win over England featured a goal from 21-year-old Grant and saw Australia use nine players who did not play in the 2019 Women’s World Cup. Gustavsson’s willingness to give young players minutes in big games fueled the team’s belief in the ability of each member of the squad.
Fowler and Vine are among the players being thrust into key roles in attack. The return of Yallop and Grant from injury and illness for the Nigeria game provides a boost against an opponent that frustrated Olympic champion Canada.
During the Cup of Nations in February, seven different Australian players scored in three games.
“I think that’s why we’re so dangerous,” midfielder Katrina Gorry said. “You never know where the goals are going to come from.”
- IND vs AUS World Cup 2023 Final: Live social media reactions, talking points; Kohli goes past Ponting’s WC record
- Full list of top run-scorers in Men’s ODI World Cup: Virat surpasses Ponting on second; Rohit overtakes Sangakkara to go fourth
- India vs Australia Live Score Updates, World Cup 2023 Final: Rohit, Virat push on after Gill falls early; IND 61/1 (8) vs AUS
- IND vs AUS Live scorecard, World Cup 2023 Final: Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli at crease after Gill departs early
- IND vs AUS: Rohit Sharma breaks record for most runs as captain in single World Cup edition