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Massive blow for Matildas as Sam Kerr ruled out for first TWO matches of World Cup, Kiwis shock Norway

20th July, 2023
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20th July, 2023
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The Matildas have suffered a huge blow just hours before they launch their World Cup against Ireland in Sydney.

Record scorer Sam Kerr was ruled out of the opening two matches with a calf strain suffered at training.

The news came less than 90 minutes before kickoff of the match at Stadium Australia.

According to Football Australia, the team’s captain will be assessed after the Matildas’ second group game against Nigeria in Brisbane on July 27.

“Unfortunately I sustained a calf injury yesterday in training,” Kerr said.

“I wanted to share this with everyone so there is no distraction from us doing what we came here to achieve.

“Of course I would have loved to have been out there tonight but I can’t wait to be a part of this amazing journey, which starts now.”

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Mary Fowler replaces Kerr in Australia’s starting line-up aganst Ireland at Stadium Australia on Thursday night and is the only change to the team that beat France 1-0 in Melbourne.

Left-back Steph Catley will skipper Australia in Kerr’s absence.

When she fronted the media on Wednesday, Kerr gave no indication that she was under duress, talking candidly about how she would embrace the pressure of performing in front of a sellout crowd at a home World Cup.

Instead, Australia’s campaign will now be dominated by questions over Kerr’s fitness.

Ireland star Denise O’Sullivan has overcome a shin injury to start.

MATILDAS XI

Mackenzie Arnold (GK); Steph Catley, Alanna Kennedy, Clare Hunt, Ellie Carpenter; Katrina Gorry, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Caitlin Foord; Cortnee Vine, Hayley Raso, Mary Fowler.

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Kiwis stun Norway

New Zealand have upstaged former champions Norway in the opening match of the Women’s World Cup with a 1-0 triumph delivered by striker Hannah Wilkinson.

Wilkinson finished Jacqui Hand’s superb cross just after half-time to secure New Zealand’s first ever win at the tournament and thrill a capacity crowd at Eden Park.

Ria Percival could have sewn the game up with an 89th minute penalty but hit her shot onto the goalframe to give the 42,137 crowd – a record for a football match in New Zealand – late jitters.

The Football Ferns withstood more than 10 agonising minutes of injury time to claim the win, rising to the occasion of a home World Cup.

The whole Kiwi squad then raced onto the pitch as if they’d won the tournament.

Jitka Klimkova’s NZ outfit looked nothing like the side that endured 10 winless matches in the 10 months before this one.

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Defying predictions as tournament easy-beats, the Football Ferns can now raise their sights and look to qualify for the last 16 when they next face the Philippines in Wellington.

Norway, who crashed out of last year’s European Championships at the group stage, will need a sharp reversal to avoid a repeat.

The Football Ferns frustrated their higher-ranked opponents in the opening half, with Malia Steinmetz excellent in the middle and captain Ali Riley sharp at left-back.

However, the chances didn’t come early: both sides combined for eight shots without hitting the target.

Superstar Ada Hegerberg tried an overhead kick, Frida Maanum blazed over from a knockdown, and Rebekah Stott arrived at the 11th hour to block Hegerberg at close range.

Willed on by the crowd and playing with more desire, New Zealand brought the worst out of Norway, who committed a series of fouls. The first-half count read 10-0 against the Scandinavians.

Many gave the Kiwis a standing ovation as they left for half time, and on 48 minutes, they were all on their feet.

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Wilkinson produced a first-time finish after Hand’s pulsating run and cross, then ran to the corner bashing the fern on her shirt in wildly emotional scenes.

The goal nearly opened the floodgates, with a VAR check for handball dismissed before Indiah-Paige Riley’s effort drew a smart save from Aurora Mikalsen.

Norway did come for the Ferns late, with Tuva Hansen’s looping shot gloved onto the bar by Victoria Esson.

Percival had a golden chance to put the game out of reach when a VAR check revealed a cross was blocked by Hansen’s hand marginally inside the box, only for the New Zealand co-captain’s shot to cannon off the woodwork.

The Ferns were not to be denied, standing strong for a famous victory.

Prior to the match, pop stars Benee and Mallrat performed Do It Again, the tournament’s official song to cap an opening ceremony rich with indigenous culture.

Players linked arms around the centre circle for a well-observed minute’s silence in honour of victims of a shooting earlier that day in Auckland.

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Cup team locked down after shooting

Teams are safe and the Women’s World Cup will continue as planned despite a fatal shooting in Auckland’s city centre on the opening morning of the tournament.

New Zealand’s Sport Minister Grant Robertson said discussions with officials from the sport’s governing body FIFA, including president Gianni Infantino, had confirmed the opening match would kick off as planned on Thursday evening.

Norway, who will face co-hosts New Zealand in the tournament opener at Auckland’s Eden Park, were swept up in the downtown incident.

The team’s hotel is in the same block as the crime scene, placing it in lockdown on Thursday morning.

Norway’s captain Maren Mjelde – a teammate of Matildas captain Sam Kerr at club side Chelsea – said “we felt safe the whole time”.

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“Everyone probably woke up quite quickly when the helicopter hovered outside the hotel window and a large number of emergency vehicles arrived,” she told Norwegian broadcaster NRK.

“At first we didn’t know what was going on, but eventually there were updates on TV and the local media.

“FIFA has a good security system at the hotel, and we have our own security officer in the squad.

“Everyone seems calm. We are preparing as normal for the game tonight.”

Three people, including the gunman, were killed in the shooting, a rare event in New Zealand.

Prime Minister Chris Hipkins said there were discussions over an appropriate marking of the incident at the opening match.

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A gala Tourism NZ lunch planned for international visitors has been cancelled, with the venue – Shed 10 on the Auckland waterfront – inside the area cordoned off by police.

It is not yet clear whether the FIFA Fan Festival area, due to open later on Thursday, will be in operation. The site is also on the Auckland waterfront.

Tens of thousands of visitors are in New Zealand for the World Cup, and Hipkins assured them that they would be safe attending matches.

“Clearly, with the FIFA World Cup kicking off this evening there are a lot of eyes on Auckland,” he said.

“New Zealanders are welcoming people. We are excited about hosting the FIFA World Cup … there is no ongoing risk here.

“We will have very active police presence to provide that reassurance.”

Why Cathy left Sam starstruck

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Sam Kerr’s approach to dealing with expectation at her home Women’s World Cup is simple: she plans to soak it up.

But the Matildas captain and Australia’s all-time top goal scorer hopes there’s no need to pull out her trademark backflip early on.

One of the world’s best footballers, Kerr will carry the hopes of a nation from Thursday’s sold-out opener against Ireland at Stadium Australia onwards.

“The expectation’s kind of been growing over the four years so it’s been something I’ve learned to deal with, I’ve really enjoyed it,” Kerr told reporters.

Sam Kerr backflip new Matildas kit

(Image: Supplied, Nike)

“I’m really proud that we’ve got a home World Cup so to be part of this journey is amazing and I’m really, really excited for it. 

“But of course everyone in Australia has a lot of expectations but it’s something I take in my stride and I try and just enjoy it – at Chelsea I’ve done that too, I’ve just enjoyed it and that’s when I’m at my best.

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“So for me it’s about enjoying it and expectation and all that just comes from outside noise.

“I know what’s expected of me from the coach, from my team and that’s all that really matters right now.”

If things go to plan, Kerr’s iconic somersaulting celebration is unlikely to get a workout against Ireland.

“I’ve always said whenever I do a backflip it’s not planned,” the striker said.

“So hopefully the games are a bit more cruisy and I don’t have to do it till later in the tournament.

“But no, it’s just a bit of fun. It’s about entertainment and having fun and showing what football’s about.”

When asked whether the backflips worried him, a grinning Tony Gustavsson said: “no comment.”

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Kerr is still revelling in a surprise visit from one of her childhood heroes, Cathy Freeman, at the Matildas’ camp in Melbourne last Wednesday.

Freeman took on the weight of a nation and delivered with her stunning gold 400m medal run, also in Stadium Australia, at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

“I don’t really get starstruck but when Cathy walked in the room I was a bit starstruck, to be honest, because she has such a presence,” Kerr said.

“But it was honestly just a relaxing night – there was nothing special about it other than the fact that Cathy came and talked to us, because she made us feel like we had known her for years. That’s just the kind of person she is.

“So we honestly just sat in a room, chatted, had dinner. But what she said to us and what she spoke to us about will stick with us forever.”

US skipper’s praise for Matildas

US captain Lindsey Horan predicts Australia will be “absolutely fire” at their home Women’s World Cup, saying they will reap the rewards of in-form stars and their meticulous coach.

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The Matildas kick off their campaign against Ireland on Thursday night and, like many, Horan will be watching to get a gauge on their potential rivals for the title.

Horan has seen enough from Australia’s recent form under Tony Gustavsson, an assistant during the US World Cup wins in 2015 and 2019, to be concerned.

“Australia is going to be one of the best teams going into this World Cup,” she told AAP.

“They’re going to be absolutely fire coming out of the gate with quality.

“I know Tony well and I know how he’s going to set up the team and and he’s going to be the most prepared ever and make sure the team is the most prepared ever.

“That is very, very exciting for that group.”

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Horan, recently elevated to co-captain by US coach Vlatko Andonovski, knows several Matildas well through club tie-ups.

While at Portland Thorns, she counted Ellie Carpenter, Caitlin Foord and Hayley Raso as teammates, and moving to Olympique Lyon last year, she was delighted to count Carpenter on her side once more.

The pair are “close friends”, with Horan there for the 23-year-old when she suffered a career-threatening knee injury in the 2022 Champions League final.

“The most admirable thing that I saw this past year was just how seriously she took her injury and how professional she was with it,” she said.

“I made sure to tell her that, ‘we are looking at the World Cup. That is all that matters right now and you want to be at your very best 100 per cent ready for that World Cup”

“I didn’t need to say it to her … everything she did was about getting back and and being prepared.

“That was really cool for me to see. It’s admirable for a young athlete like that.”

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Ellie Carpenter for the Matildas

The Matildas have some work to do. (AAP Image/Tony McDonough)

Horan was less pleased to encounter Foord at club level last season, when the winger scored twice in the Champions League for Arsenal in a 5-1 away win in Lyon.

“Oh, I hated her … it was super annoying,” she laughed.

“She had an absolutely incredible season. I was so proud for my friend, also because I’m an Arsenal fan.”

Horan said she was thrilled to see the 28-year-old hit her stride as her home World Cup nears.

“She seems so free and so confident. Everything has been flowing: every step, every touch, every finish,” she said.

“She’s going to be incredible in this World Cup. Up until she plays against the US, hopefully in the later stages.”

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Horan and the two-time reigning world champions begin their campaign against Vietnam on Saturday at Auckland’s Eden Park.

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