The World Cup co-hosts Australia are looking to make a big impact on the competition this year.
The Matildas are hitting peak form coming into the tournament, having won six of their last seven matches, a run which includes wins over England, Sweden, and Spain. With players such as Ellie Carpenter, Caitlin Foord, and Steph Catley returning from injury at the right time, plus a number of new young guns, hopes are high Down Under.
Whilst WSL fans are familiar with a large number of Matildas playing their club football here or in France, Tony Gustavsson’s side boast a number of other players that are more than capable of posing a threat.
Head coach: Tony Gustavsson
Under previous Matildas head coaches, injuries to established players meant a succession of squad members being forced into makeshift roles in unfamiliar parts of the pitch, Tony Gustavsson spent the first two years of his three year tenure blooding a succession of the country’s young talent. Young talent that have shown they are capable of producing excellent performances on the international stage across all areas of the pitch.
Gustavsson went for experimentation in a bid to widen the possible net for selection. This meant that, the Tokyo Olympics apart (where Australia beat Team GB en route to a best-ever fourth-place finish), results took a back seat over that period – a period that included a hugely frustrating exit at the AFC Asian Women’s Cup to South Korea at the Quarter-Final stage.
However, the Australian coaching staff have now settled on who is worth sticking with, and the outcome has been thrilling.
Gustavsson has experience at the highest possible level – being the assistant head coach for the USWNT when they won the gold medal at the London 2012 Olympics and World Cup in 2015 and 2019 World Cups.
The Swede is a hugely engaging character. His media conferences, of which I’ve attended most since his appointment to the post in 2020, are enjoyable and open. Not for him the bland statements of “we’re excited” – instead he’ll sit there and provide you with long, detailed and insightful thoughts.
Back in October ahead of the Matildas’ friendly with South Africa at Kingsmeadow, I was granted a 10 minute one-to-one with him, and it was like entering into the mind of an absolute tactical master, one who speaks in simple terms, and with huge passion, and more often than not with a huge smile on his face.
When I asked him how he deals with the pressures of the job, he admitted: “I believe in mindfulness training. When the players are out doing their final warm up on matchday, I often stay in the dressing room on my own, laid out on the benches in there listening to mindfulness talks. Quite often people walk in on me – I’m not sure who is more shocked when they do so, them or me!” Gustavsson is a man I would dearly love to spend an evening down the pub with over a pint. If you’re reading this, Tony, I’ll be in Perth this August, yeh?
Gustavsson’s enthusiasm is contagious, and as Sam Kerr told me at a media conference this April when the Matildas played England: “He has the experience, he has the insight. When he talks, we listen.”
Players to watch:
Whilst Sam Kerr is the obvious choice, along with a number of her WSL based teammates, here’s an opportunity to discover more about other members of the Matildas squad.
Katrina Gorry 30, returned to the game just over 12 months ago after giving birth to baby Harper in 2021. The star, known as ‘Mini’, due to her diminutive size (a touch over 5 ft) has not only taken the club game by the scruff of the neck since returning at both Brisbane Roar and Vittsjö, but has also produced a number of influential performances back in the green and gold of Australia. The 92 cap midfielder can thread a pass through the eye of a needle, or hit a stunner of a long-range free-kick. The Matildas’ World Cup opponents have been warned – give away a set piece around the box and Gorry will be ready.
Alex Chidiac is at the peak of her powers at the age of 24. Now back in the NWSL at Racing Louisville after playing three-quarters of the A-League Women campaign for Melbourne Victory, Chidiac is the ultimate creative midfielder. Whether it is finding her wide players with inch perfect lofted passes, using her pace to drive through the centre before offloading to a teammate, Chidiac has the sort of creative brain that any international head coach desperately wants. The South Australian product can read the potential runs those ahead of her will make before they embark on them, and supplies on the money passes with her eyes closed. Chidiac is a player that the footballing purist will love. She has the potential to be a major star at the World Cup.
Charli Grant The South Australian had a record as arguably the best young defender in what was then the W-League with Adelaide United, and it earned her a shot at Champions League football with Swedish champions FC Rosengård. Grant was long admired for her potential among the Australian women’s football family. She took her chance with both hands in the absence of Ellie Carpenter through injury to drive her game to new heights.
Grant bosses the right-hand side of the defence and is capable of tracking two players at once before using her outstanding ability to read the game to make the right call time after time to close down danger before it eventuates.
Whilst not in possession of the rapid pace to get forward that Carpenter does, Grant offers more than the Lyon player in terms of defensive qualities.
Her ability to also play left back for her loan side Vittsjö in Sweden means that it Gustavsson can field both Carpenter and Grant in the same team. That’s one heck of a defensive duo and one that also poses attacking threats on both flanks.
Cortnee Vine is in the form of her life, and is overdue a move to Europe, where she would be a potential star in the WSL. The 24-year-old Sydney FC striker has it all – pace, strength, creativity, and red hot finishing skills.
Vine is a player who mixes the old-fashioned out and out wing play with the quality to finish from all over the front line. Whether it is using her speed to eat up the yards on the right hand side, dancing past would-be tacklers to provide pinpoint passes into the box, or cutting into the middle to draw a goalkeeper and slot calmly and confidently into the net, she is a player who, whilst has never played club football outside of Australia, has taken to the international stage superbly with three goals already.
Australia’s World Cup could well come down to their group game with Canada. Win that and they will avoid a last sixteen showdown with England in Brisbane – although as the Matildas are unbeaten in their last three games against the Lionesses/Team GB, maybe that shouldn’t be an opponent for them to fear.
The Matildas’ are universally adored in Australia. Think the reaction to the Socceroos’ exploits at the Qatar Men’s World Cup was a big deal? You haven’t seen anything yet. A raucous home support with rammed full stadiums allied with their Never Say Die spirit which drives them to compete with the best when they play the top sides, means anything is possible. Equalling their best-ever World Cup placing of quarter-finalists would be their minimum aim.