26 Jul How will the Matildas manage mounting injuries at WWC?
“When it comes to the training, I totally understand if you didn’t see the training, if I were you sitting out there, I’d go ‘what the heck is happening in trainings?'” Matildas head coach Tony Gustavsson said with a laugh.
In that moment when the news dropped, Matildas fans must have felt like the whole world was conspiring against this team at this tournament.
Of course, concussion is nothing to play fast and loose with and Football Australia’s concussion guidelines meant the players had to be ruled out for a minimum of six days. If their concussions weren’t treated seriously, the national team setup would quite rightly have been severely criticised.
But doing the right thing arguably wouldn’t have felt so bad if not for these injuries coming off the back of Sam Kerr’s calf injury which ruled her out of the Matildas opening two World Cup games.
A call on Kerr likely won’t be made until the day before the Canada match with Gustavsson admitting “we want to wait until the last minute to see where she’s at in terms of availability.”
But with the nation’s anxiety already heightened following the skipper’s injury, the news of Fowler and Luik felt like a gut punch. How could one team have such bad luck? Especially at their home tournament? Didn’t the football gods have any sense of occasion?
Luckily, both Gustavsson and acting captain Steph Catley had a little more perspective than that.
“Obviously that’s not what you want ever in a tournament. And in particular, this tournament has been very exciting and a big moment for all of us as Australian players, probably the biggest moment of our careers,” Catley said.
“So it’s the last thing that you want to see your teammates and your friends going through, but in saying that it’s football and it happens to every single footballer on the entire planet.
“We’re not the first team that’s had injuries in major tournaments and we won’t be the last.”
The 23 in 23 motto that Gustavsson had been using since he first signed on for the job would need to become more than a slogan.
“We have a lot of attacking options, still in the roster,” Gustavsson explained. “But this team have also showed that we’re very adaptable. So we might have a different profile of a player but we’re still going to have the same identity.”
With a glass half full, the Matildas do indeed still have attacking minded options to call upon. With a glass half empty, none of them are nominal strikers.
The magnets will need to be moved around to an extent Matildas fans haven’t previously seen in order to accommodate the absences of both Kerr and Fowler up top.
Caitlin Foord will be locked in as the starting striker but how she is supported will be the real question. Emily van Egmond feels like the most likely choice to enter the starting XI based on recent history but Alex Chidiac and Tameka Yallop could be utilised as No. 10s — though Yallop has rarely been used in an attacking midfield role for the national team under Gustavsson and is also on limited minutes.
Van Egmond again feels like the likely choice but Clare Wheeler would allow both Gorry and Cooney-Cross to push further forward, with the defensive shackles released off them. In among all these combinations lies the Kyah Simon question.
It was a high risk, high reward call to select her in the first place only 10 months post-ACL. Had she been ready to go, or even slightly further along in her rehab journey, she could realistically have slotted in as the next choice up top.
While no one could have foreseen the extent of the injuries the Matildas are now dealing with, the reality of them has had many asking whether the proposition of a fit Kyah Simon later in the tournament was the right choice, was better than a currently fit other striker right now.
Gustavsson was quick to shut down any talk of regrets.
“I’m never going to regret picking Kyah,” Gustavsson said.
“I picked her for different reasons. One was we knew she was going to have limited minutes but her game changer quality was what we picked her for and what she showed in training last couple of weeks before selection was amazing.”
Her big game experience in extra time and penalty shootouts, which only come into effect in the knockouts stages were also highlighted.
“We knew it was a risk but you never know what it’s going to be like. The other thing is what she contributes to the group in the locker room and off the pitch with her experience and her personality.”
However the Matildas do take to the field, a tough test awaits them in Nigeria and the question of whether or not the team does have enough attacking options to create a win will be answered.