When Tony Gustavsson was installed in Australian football’s biggest job, he was given two tasks. First, he was to prepare a team to contend for a home World Cup. Additionally, he was asked to develop the depth available to the national team.
The Matildas squad named for the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup shows that things have largely gone to plan.
The 23-player squad essentially has at least two players capable of playing every position in the team. Eight players are designated as defenders at club level, including four centre-backs. There are four specialist fullbacks, plus Tameka Yallop who has deputised in the role when needed.
Three of those defenders selected, [Clare Hunt, Courtney Nevin and Charlotte Grant] made their national team debuts under Gustavsson. Each of them has started, with Grant able to play on either the left or the right flank.
In midfield, there are so many options that 2019’s talismanic star Chloe Logarzo was unlucky to be left out. Kyra Cooney-Cross has established herself as a genuine star of the side, and Katrina Gorry has been given the responsibility that allows her to thrive after the previous two Matildas coaches largely overlooked her talents.
Beyond the dynamic duo, there is the experience of Emily van Egmond, the energy and technical prowess of Clare Wheeler and the versatility of Yallop. Alex Chidiac can bring the aggression and X-factor should Gustavsson need a player who can turn a game with a moment of magic.
What this means is that it is unlikely that The Matildas will be forced into tactical reshuffles between games. The players in midfield are not like for like, but can all perform similar roles. Although Wheeler has been referred to as a “six” she is adept as a box-to-box midfielder having played a more creative role with Everton, Fortuna Hjorring and Sydney FC.
The progress made in the last few years contrasts with the 2019 preparation. Before the World Cup in France, a late injury to Laura Brock in defence meant a late call-up for the uncapped Karly Roestbakken. The 19-year-old performed admirably, but there has been no reliance on miracles this time around.
“I am delighted to see the progression of the team as it is a result of their dedication to be prepared for this moment,” Gustavsson told the media.
“To see so many debutants for the tournament speaks to the hard work of the players themselves, but also the coaching staff and support staff as we looked to build depth in the squad.
“This is a special group of players who, when you see the anticipation around the tournament and level of interest for women’s football, have already sparked a transformation. We can’t wait to get the tournament underway in front of a record crowd of support.”
In attack is where it gets curious. The Matildas have won without Sam Kerr but struggled without both Kerr and Caitlin Foord against Scotland.
Hayley Raso and Cortnee Vine will likely occupy the wings, so the options as centre forwards are Mary Fowler and Kyah Simon. Both have recently returned to training after injuries and although both are top-class forwards, it is the only area of the pitch without an abundance of options.
Still, when looking at this squad, the most obvious feature is depth, experience and consistency. Although many new players have been brought through during Gustavsson’s era, the seven debutants at this World Cup have a total of 116 caps between them.
This is a new-look squad, with some very fresh faces who all add something to the team and can start or change a game. It also has experienced stalwarts like Clare Polkinghorne and Lydia Williams who are in their 17th year as senior Matildas.
Edge of the Crowd partners with Her Game Too for the Women's World Cup, uniting our passion for diversity and inclusivity in sports. Together, we aim to dismantle barriers, tackle sexism, and amplify women's voices in the sporting realm. Join us in celebrating the spirit of the beautiful game, free of gender constraints. The love for the game knows no gender; let's make every game, Her Game Too. Head to @HerGameToo on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to learn more.
The Matildas are well prepared coming into this World Cup. The depth they have in almost every position should allow them to rest players if needed or replace some without forcing a domino effect throughout the team.
It seemed an impossible task when Gustavsson took over in 2020. But off-field, almost everything has gone according to plan. Now all we can do is wait until kick-off.
Australia Squad for The FIFA Women's World Cup.
Goalkeepers: Lydia Williams [Brighton Hove and Albion], Mackenzie Arnold [West Ham United], Teagan Micah [Rosengard]
Defenders: Alanna Kennedy [Manchester City] Courtney Nevin [Leicester City], Aivi Luik [BK Hacken], Clare Polkinghorne [Vittsjö GIK, Steph Catley [Arsenal], Clare Hunt[Western Sydney Wanderers], Ellie Carpenter [Olympique Lyon], Charlotte Grant [Vittsjö GIK]
Midfielders: Kyra Cooney-Cross [Hammarby IF], Katrina Gorry [Vittsjö GIK] Hayley Raso [uncontracted], Tameka Yallop [SK Brann], Emily Van Egmond [San Diego Wave], Alex Chidiac [Racing Louisville FC], Clare Wheeler [Everton], Cortnee Vine [Sydney FC]
Strikers: Kyah Simon [Uncontracted], Sam Kerr [Chelsea], Caitlin Foord [Arsenal], Mary Fowler [Manchester City]