Gustavsson names strong squad for Matildas’ homecoming

Matildas’ coach Tony Gustavsson has named a star-studded squad for coming friendlies against Brazil in Sydney — homecoming fixtures marking the end of a 597-day gap between games on home soil for Australia’s women.

Absent from the team that suffered an upset 3-2 defeat to the Republic of Ireland last month, experienced campaigners Ellie Carpenter, Kyah Simon, Caitlin Foord, and Emily van Egmond are all set to return for the October 23 and 26 contests — the latter set to fly out to Australia just days after jetting from Europe to the US to play for the Orlando Pride in the NWSL.

After an impressive cameo debut against Ireland, Angie Beard has earned another call-up to the Matildas.
Image Credit: Football Australia

They will join established names such as Sam Kerr, Steph Catley, Alanna Kennedy, and Clare Polkinghorne in the squad, which will arrive Down Under in coming days under strict quarantine protocols negotiated between Football Australia and Government.

Angie Beard, Charli Grant, and Clare Wheeler all retain their places following debuts against the Irish, while the the injury-enforced absences of Chloe Logarzo, Elise Kellond-Knight, Hayley Raso, and Emily Gielnik opens the door for 18-year-old Western Sydney Wanderer and Young Matilda prospect Bryleeh Henry to receive her first senior call-up — the 16th such individual to accomplish that feat in 2022. She, alongside Remy Siemsen and Jamilla Rankin, could now secure an international debut against Brazil.

“We need to be patient,” Gustavsson said of the fresh faces. “We can’t expect a debutant coming into the camp to be ready the first time they come in, but we need to expose them to the Matildas’ environment to get them ready for 2023 and to scout them in our environment, to see who bounds and thrives under that high international tempo that we have in the Matildas.

“We are going to keep looking for new players and either invite them to the training environment to see them there or, for some players that make a good impression in the training environment, make sure that they get some game time.

“It is all about now who can reach their full potential come 2023. It’s not just about who is the best, it is about who can become the best, so we are looking at 2023 in all the decisions that we are making right now.”

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The fixtures against familiar foes Brazil — the teams last played each other at the 2019 World Cup, when Australia recorded a comeback 3-2 win dubbed “The Miracle of Montpellier” — and mooted home friendlies against the United States in November loom large for Gustavsson as he seeks to mould his side into a unit that can challenge in 2023.

Though he was able to guide the team to a Bronze Medal match at the Tokyo Olympics — finally breaking the quarterfinals barrier at a major tournament — the Swede has conceded 30 goals against 17 scored thus far in his tenure and logged a record of just two wins and two draws against eight losses. Just one of those wins, a 2-1 win over New Zealand at the Olympics, was achieved inside 90 minutes.

Though undoubtedly the victim of some unforunate defelections and goalkeeping, the Matildas have looked fragile in defence against the high-calibre foes that Gustavsson has insisted upon — the type of opponents that will need to be beaten in 2023 if glory on home soil is to be acheived — and struggled to attack in a manner that allows them to exploit their collective talents moving forward. Frequently, star captain Sam Kerr has been left isolated and able to do little but chase long balls played forward.

This has, however, come against a backdrop of significant experimentation and injury-enforced absences within the Matildas’ setup: 56 players called into a senior camp thus far on 2021 and ten players making their international bows. One would have to go back to 2012 to find an equal or greater number of players earning their debuts for the national team — a year that, amongst others, saw Steph Catley and Alanna Kennedy secure maiden caps. Youngsters Mary Fowler and Kyra Cooney-Cross, in particular, have emerged as likely cornerstones of the team for years to come across the past 12 months.

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“Preparation is number one,” Gustavsson remarked on the coming games. “I said that going into the September camp when we played against Ireland, we changed from ‘performance mode’ from the Olympics to ‘preparation mode’.

Ellie Carpenter is among the big-name additions to the squad for the Brazil friendlies
Image Credit: Football Australia

“That doesn’t mean that we are going to step on the field not trying to win – we are always going to try and win when we play every game – but we are not going to try and win at the expense of our preparations

“We can’t shy away from tough challenges and tough games. We need to look at this as a long run towards the World Cup in 2023.”

While the performances of the Matildas and their trajectory heading into a home World Cup have been the subject of scrutiny in recent months, the squad will return to Australia as new a firestorm rages over off-field and cultural controversies.

In an interview with Newscorp last week, Australian football icon Lisa De Vanna recounted disturbing experiences of sexual harassment, abuse and bullying from teammates across her 150-game international career. Former W-League stalwart Rhali Dobson also said she was a target of sexual harassment during her career.

Amid calls for wide-reaching inquiries, Football Australia, Professional Footballers Australia and Sport Integrity Australia have launched investigations into the allegations, while the federation has also moved to establish an independent complaint management process in which independent body Sport Integrity Australia will receive, assess, and manage all complaints.

Releasing a collective statement in the wake of the Newscorp story, several Matildas past and present have since been targeted with disgusting abuse on social media that included homophobic comments, threats, and the circulation of private images of at least two players without their consent — the latter incidents since reported to authorities for investigation and possible prosecution.

In announcing the squad, Gustavsson backed the need for an independent review.

“It’s not easy to come forward, it takes a lot from Lisa, Rhali and others to do so,” he said. “We need to show support. We need to encourage everyone to come forward and the comfort to do so, and it’s very important that no player, no staff, whether it’s former, current or future stand alone in a situation like this.

“I want to be clear: there’s no room for harassment, for bullying, for sexual abuse in our game, nor in any other walk of life for that matter.”

Tony Gustavsson speaks on stories of historical abuse within Australian women’s football as part of a statement distributed by Football Australia

Matildas 23-player Squad | October 2021
Goalkeepers: Mackenzie Arnold, Teagan Micah, Lydia Williams
Defenders: Angela Beard, Ellie Carpenter, Steph Catley, Emma Checker, Charlotte Grant, Alanna Kennedy, Courtney Nevin, Clare Polkinghorne, Jamilla Rankin, Karly Roestbakken
Midfielders: Kyra Cooney-Cross, Emily van Egmond, Clare Wheeler, Tameka Yallop
Forwards: Caitlin Foord, Mary Fowler, Bryleeh Henry, Sam Kerr, Remy Siemsen, Kyah Simon

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Header Image Credit: Football Australia

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