As tempting as it might be for Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson to thrust rehabilitated Matildas captain Sam Kerr back into the fray right from the opening whistle against France, he would be wise not to.
The moment that the details of the calf injury that sidelined the Chelsea striker throughout the group stages of the World Cup came to light, Australia took a collective gasp in fear that the nation’s chances of doing something special on home soil had taken the the ultimate hit.
Surely a Matildas team with anyone but one of the finest players in the world at the arrowhead of their attack was no longer a force to be reckoned with; a good team no doubt, but one now without the cutting edge required to compete with the elite Europeans?
That thought crossed the minds of the majority of us and without Kerr, the Matildas hopes did appear to have been dashed before a ball had even been kicked in anger.
Australia battled through against Republic of Ireland, with a Steph Catley penalty enough to set course for the Round of 16, before Nigeria threw the proverbial spanner into the works with a stunning 3-2 win in Brisbane.
The loss seemed to confirm that without the woman capable of feats no other Matilda can manage, Gustavsson’s side was unlikely to launch any potentially significant run during the tournament.
Then, all of a sudden, the superstar’s buddies stepped up and put paid to the Kerr-or-bust myth that has existed for some time within the minds of many cynical pundits.
Olympic champions Canada felt the full weight of the extended attacking group. Hayley Raso netted twice in her best-ever game in national colours, the Matildas’ brightest young spark Mary Fowler also found the net and was simply inspirational at times, before Catley iced another penalty in a 4-0 victory.
Caitlin Foord was best on park according to many and despite not finding the net herself, showing the nation that the fight in the camp could well be enough to keep the team advancing, as it waited for the return of its greatest player.
The result was unthinkable some 18 months ago, with Canada reigning Olympic champions and the Matildas struggling somewhat in the early days of Gustavsson’s reign.
As if to reinforce the point, the Matildas’ Round of 16 clash with Denmark was potentially even more convincing. Foord was sublime once again; hitting the net in style during the first half as Raso added another in the second.
Fowler played a central role up front that allowed Foord to create havoc on the left edge and the balance in the attack seemed to have the Danes at sixes and sevens in defence.
When the Sydney crowd went bananas in the final minutes to welcome Kerr onto the pitch for the first time in the tournament, the Danes were defeated and the 29-year-old looked mighty sharp with fresh legs as she competed and entered contests with what seemed decent confidence.
Gustavsson smiled openly and must have been thinking what could be possible with his gun back in the holster. Yet is starting Kerr the right move against France, considering the hot form of the attacking periphery and the potential danger of upsetting the balance in the front third?
I would suggest that without any kilometres in the legs over the last three weeks and just how close the decision came on Kerr’s fitness prior to the Denmark clash, that the Swede might be best to resist the temptation to ruffle the attacking feathers that have served Australia so well over the last two matches.
The Matildas can win without Kerr tonight. The best plan of attack could well be to stick with the attacking formation that is firing and have the Chelsea striker suited and ready for action whenever the need arises.
Sam Kerr is not your typical 70th-minute substitution, yet is a dynamic weapon used off the bench when required.
If Gustavsson does have eyes on a potential semi-final and final, there is simply no need to inject her into what is a well-functioning front line, when 30 or 40 minutes under her belt might be all Kerr needs to be ready for the next match on August 16.
Gustavsson is hinting at playing Kerr, if she is able to play the entire 90 minutes. Frankly, that seems foolhardy. The coach has been clear in his view that it takes a squad to win a tournament such as the World Cup.
It might be best to keep that approach against France and trust the women who have done the job thus far.