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Opinion

A Matildas bronze medal win calls for fresh legs

Team Australia look on during the women's semi-final match between Australia and Sweden (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
Expert
4th August, 2021
5

The Matildas enter Thursday night’s bronze medal play-off against the USA with high hopes of achieving something very, very special.

Should the ball bounce Australia’s way, the strategies implemented prove successful and the scoreboard reflect a winning performance, a bronze medal would be added to what remains a relatively bare Football Australia trophy cabinet.

It would be easy to wax lyrical and use countless words to explain just how significant a victory would be.

As fans, that is our right and our want.

However, inside the camp there will be no such romanticising and reflection. Coach Tony Gustavsson has a mighty task on his hands; a mission to defeat one of the powerhouses of the world game with what, in part, looks a fatigued, battered and bruised squad.

After what has already been a physically demanding tournament for his team, Gustavsson will be losing sleep over his selection decisions, knowing full well that he could ask certain players in his squad to back up for the sixth time in 16 days.

Alternatively, the Swede could pull another rein and select some of the bench talent that has been champing at the bit for more opportunities throughout the tournament.

The dilemma he faces arises as Steph Catley, Tameka Yallop, Sam Kerr and Emily van Egmond potentially prepare to appear in the starting IX for the sixth straight game.

Sam Kerr scores against Sweden (Photo by getty Images)

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All four have been superb and physically resilient in the face of the brutal Japanese heat. However, Kerr was in doubt for the semi-final with Sweden just three days ago, and Yallop’s engine appears to be approaching the point where a service may be required.

Catley has been clattered into on numerous occasions, with the impact of those tackles clearly evident on her face in the moments after, and van Egmond’s ability to play a warrior-like brand of football that demands imposing herself on the contest is reliant on a similar physical presence.

Whilst the players themselves will insist they are physically prepared to do battle with what will admittedly be a somewhat fatigued USA squad, this may well be the moment for Gustavsson to show the utmost belief in his extended squad.

His headache is enhanced by the unavailability of Ellie Carpenter after her late red carding against the Swedes.

As arguably Australia’s best player throughout the tournament, Carpenter’s absence leaves a mighty hole to fill at right back and the impact of such a loss could be potentially lessened by the inclusion of fresh legs with less Tokyo kilometres on the speedometer.

The Matildas' Ellie Carpenter

Ellie Carpenter’s absence will be felt after her late red card in the semi-final (AP Photo/Claude Paris)

Aivi Luik was asked to adopt a defensive role in the back four earlier in the tournament and could be requested to do so again; looming also as a potential replacement for van Egmond in defensive midfield.

Laura Brock saw limited minutes against Sweden but may be called upon to plug a defensive gap, depending on how Gustavsson sets things up elsewhere and Clare Polkinghorne seems to be the coach’s go-to substitute when defensive assurance is required late in matches.

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Without Carpenter and a potential rest for Catley or van Egmond, or perhaps both, all three could theoretically start.

Sadly, the Matildas would be blunted considerably without Catley’s left foot that continues to be one of the best in woman’s football and van Egmond’s leadership qualities that are obvious in their effectiveness.

Kerr is undoubtedly Gustavsson’s biggest concern up front and Caitlin Foord did enjoy a rest against the USA last Tuesday.

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However, whether Foord and Kyah Simon would present enough danger in front of goal to crack the Americans without Kerr is questionable.

No doubt, the captain will be demanding to lead the team from the front right from the opening whistle and with all that to consider, you can see Gustavsson’s dilemma.

A rest for Yallop would potentially see Mary Fowler given the minutes many feel she deserves after being dangerous and effective in her appearances thus far and perhaps a fresh Kyra Cooney-Cross and Emily Gielnik in attack would throw something different at USA.

The manager will also have Hayley Raso and Chloe Logarzo on his mind, as he attempts to formulate a midfield that does better than last time around against the same opposition and, despite looking good throughout the tournament, Teagan Micah’s workload must surely come into question, with the experienced Lydia Williams ready and waiting to excel in another high-pressure game.

Should Gustavsson navigate the minefield and formulate a successful setup that brings Australian football an Olympic medal, he will appear a genius.

Should he resist the temptation to rejuvenate the team with fresher legs and fail, the criticism will be loud and harsh.

I do not envy his pending decisions, despite either result taking nothing away from what has been a wonderful Olympic campaign from the Matildas.

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