The Matildas’ bandwagon has gripped the nation and gathered full steam, including the AFL fraternity with big screens beaming out the quarter-final prior to their Saturday games.
The TV ratings numbers, with 6.54 million people tuning in nationwide for Monday’s win over Denmark, were staggering.
The feel-good momentum gained from their last two cut-throat, combined with a friendly Saturday timeslot, is likely to lead to even bigger viewership.
It’s thrilling stuff for us loyal football folk, but it all falls flat if the Matildas don’t progress to the last four, so GGArmy’s Ben Somerford asks some of the burning questions ahead of the showdown with Les Bleues from 5pm AEST on Saturday.
Does Sam Kerr start? If not, how much does she play?
Oft-coy Matildas boss Tony Gustavsson said on Friday that this is yet to be decided, with his support staff to gather on Friday evening to discuss whether she’s fit enough to start.
He did say, however, if she is fully fit for 120+ minutes, she will start.
The argument has been made that the team is going great without her in the starting line-up and her inclusion will only disrupt that. But that’s naïve to the fact this is Sam Kerr, one of the world’s top five female players.
Make no mistake, she will make this side better. And at this stage of the tournament, the opposition is getting tougher, so we need that.
Her inclusion would likely mean Emily van Egmond drops out of the starting XI. They are different players, so it would change the dynamic but not drastically. Kerr would play more advanced than van Egmond, who attempted to chase and harass when the opposition were in possession, as well as hold up play when possible.
If Kerr is not fully available, van Egmond likely retains her spot in the XI. It’s hard to see much need to change things. The idea of bringing Kerr early in the second half, as what Gustavsson calls a “game changer”, is tempting.
Depending on the situation, he’ll need to consider the possibility of extra-time, meaning more minutes for that famed left calf, which complicates matters. She is quite the ace to have up our sleeve.
Can we contain France?
You may have heard the fearful stat that Les Bleues have piled on 10 goals in their past two games. Ellie Carpenter’s blue-haired Lyon teammate Kadidiatou Diani has netted four of those and assisted another two.
But it must be noted that was against lower opposition Morocco (ranked 72) and Panama (ranked 52), so take note, but don’t stress yet.
Prior to that, France edged Brazil 2-1, were kept goalless in a 0-0 draw by Jamaica and, of course, lost to the Matildas 1-0 in their World Cup warm-up game in Melbourne.
The big threats are there, led by Diani up front, who’ll be supported by her club teammate Eugenie Le Sommer. They attack in numbers, with Selma Bacha and Kenza Dali willing to overload out wide.
The French, though, will trouble the Matildas with their eagerness to win back possession, meaning we’ll likely be on the back foot for much of the contest, unless cool and crafty heads like Mary Fowler and Katrina Gorry can keep the ball and boss the middle of the park.
Australia lost possession 56-44% against Denmark, with had exactly 100 more passes, while Canada had the 61-39% possession sway with 178 more passes, yet lost 4-0. Possession may be nine-tenths of the law, but it isn’t the key to beating the Matildas, who thrive on the counter.
Kerr, with her pace and power, offers another outlet to that counter-attacking style, along with Caitlin Foord who has thrived on the left.
But this is the World Cup quarter-finals against the fifth-ranked team, who’ll have a bit more edge on the ball, so the defensive discipline needs to remain as strong as the past two games.
— CommBank Matildas (@TheMatildas) August 11, 2023
Can the Matildas hold their nerve?
Four games into the World Cup, it feels like those opening game nerves against the Republic of Ireland are long gone. The energy has changed. The momentum has built. The nation is fully behind this team and that will help ease any nervous energy inside Brisbane Stadium on Saturday evening.
For mine, the back four, is the key to this question. Alanna Kennedy and Clare Hunt have forged an excellent partnership lately, but the former needs to keep it simple. Mackenzie Arnold is another who doesn’t always fill you with confidence, despite three clean sheets this tournament.
Arnold has particularly seemed susceptible from set-pieces, especially corners, and set-pieces will play a critical part.
Where will our goals come from?
As I said, set-pieces will play a big part. The Matildas haven’t done a good job at winning free-kicks in dangerous areas, which is an important skill in these types of games. Likewise, we may be defending a few if France boss possession and territory.
Mary Fowler, who’ll be very familiar to the French having previously played for Montpellier, netted the winner against Les Bleues in the warm-up game and has had some sublime moments this tournament, more as the supplier than finisher.
Foord’s past few games on the left flank have been exceptional too and she’ll reacquaint her London rivalry with Chelsea right-back Eve Perisset, who she’s faced many times with Arsenal. That will be a perennial battle, offering Australia the counter-attacking outlet that has served us well.
Hayley Raso has netted three goals, but her wide play hasn’t been quite as effective as Foord’s, making her impact inside the box. The left side really has been our best avenue to goal, with Arsenal duo Steph Catley and Foord combining, but the former will have to be on guard.
And then there’s Kerr… fingers crossed!