Tokyo 2020 Matildas Preview

Australia’s squad for the Olympic Games is one filled with players plying their trade in some of the biggest clubs in women’s football including FA Women’s Super League title and Golden Boot winner Sam Kerr, star defender Ellie Carpenter, UEFA Women’s Champions League bound Arsenal trio, Steph Catley, Caitlin Foord and Lydia Williams, as well as W-League Grand Final match winner Kyra Cooney-Cross.

The squad selected is a mix of youth and experience, with three players recording over 100 international appearances for Australia.  Teenagers Cooney-Cross and Mary Fowler join Teagan Micah, Emily Gielnik, Hayley Raso, Charli Grant, Courtney Nevin, Laura Brock and veteran Aivi Luik as the nine Olympic debutants.

The squad, which looks very strong on paper does not come without a few potentially risky selections. Tony Gustavsson has called up both Elise Kellond-Knight and Chloe Logarzo, both of whom have been side-lined for injuries for a lengthy period, and who have not played for the Matildas since the pandemic. First choice goalkeeper Lydia Williams has been out for much of last season with Arsenal. Teagan Micah has also come in as goalkeeper after impressive against Sweden in the Matildas’ most recent friendly with long time second choice goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold of West Ham United also named. as a travelling reserve. Another player called up is South Australian star Charli Grant, who has yet to make her international debut despite being called up for the most recent friendlies.

Whilst the return of Logarzo and Kellond-Knight is a risk, it is not a surprise. Speaking at his press conference prior to the friendlies with Denmark and Sweden, head coach Tony Gustavsson told me that, although Logarzo was not ready for those two games he was in “constant contact with her” in order for there to be an opportunity to take the former Bristol City player to Tokyo, such is her massive importance to the Matildas. Equally, Gustavsson admitted selecting Kellond-Knight for the Scandinavian friendlies despite knowing she wasn’t yet fit to play as he wanted to have a good look at her in training.

Matildas coach, Tony Gustavsson has a hugely impressive CV which saw him picked from a strong list of candidates to lead the Matildas into what is arguably the biggest three years in their history with the Olympics followed by next year’s Asia Cup and 2023’s World Cup which Australia are joint hosts of.

The Matildas coach took his first coaching position in women’s football with Tyreso FF and immediately led them to the top flight championship. Two years later, under Gustavsson, Tyreso FF made the UEFA Women’s Champions League Final where they went down 4-3 to mighty Wolfsburg. His success with Tyreso attracted the attention of the USNWT which saw him help to shape a team that won the gold medal at the 2012 London Olympic Games plus the FIFA Women’s World Cup in 2015 and 2019.

This is Australia’s fourth appearance in the Olympics, with their first showing as host nation in 2000. In Sydney, the Matildas finished the group stages with a draw and two losses. Their other two previous trips to the Games both saw Australia make the Quarter-Finals. Athens 2004 saw a win over Greece, a draw with the USA and a loss to Brazil before going down 2-1 to Sweden in the last eight. After missing out in 2008 and 2012, the Matildas beat Zimbabwe, drew with Germany and lost to Canada before facing host nation Brazil in the quarter-finals in Rio. Despite a heroic effort in front of over 52,500 screaming Brazilians in Belo Horizonte, the Matildas went down 7-6 on penalties after a goalless 120 minutes.

The Matildas qualified for the Olympics in March 2020, with Emily van Egmond and Sam Kerr leading the Australian charge during the AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifiers.  They eventually clinched their place at Tokyo with victory in Vietnam just prior to the outbreak of coronavirus.

Kyra Cooney-Cross is my one to watch. This 19 year-old who made her senior Matildas international debut on 10th June in Denmark potentially has the world at her feet. Cooney-Cross trialled with the Mini Matildas at the age of 14 and made her W-League debut for Melbourne Victory a year later. Two months after that debut, she scored her first W-League goal – a header against Newcastle Jets and went on to play in every game for the Victory that season.

Photos: @TheMatildas
A move to Western Sydney Wanderers in 2019 saw Cooney-Cross score four times in twelve games as she was part of the team making their first ever Finals appearance.

The W-League season just gone saw the teenager return to Melbourne Victory and go up a level and then some. Some powerful runs from midfield, vicious shots on goal, plus absolute wizardry from set-pieces marked her out as one of the best players, if not the best player in the competition. All this before she single-handedly decided the 2021 W-League Grand Final. With the clock moving over the 120 minute mark at the end of extra time, up stepped Kyra to take a corner on the left hand side. The 19 year-old curled a stunning effort straight into the net to win the Grand Final for Melbourne Victory. It was no fluke. She meant it.

She has an incredible record for Australia at U17 level where she scored fourteen goals in as many games and U20 level where Cooney-Cross netted seven times in eight matches.

The Matildas are in the group of death to end all group of deaths. If they can qualify, particularly placed first or second, then anything is possible. For starters, a quarter-final place would be a great achievement given everything the squad have had to deal with.

Ben Gilby writes for Beyond90, Australia’s leading independent women’s football platform. Visit https://beyond90.com.au/