The Matildas this weekend will take a crucial step forward in their preparations for the Women’s World Cup in 2023, which will be co-hosted by Australia and New Zealand.
An experimental Matildas squad faces two heavyweight nations when they battle Spain on Sunday morning AEST before facing Portugal on Wednesday morning.
The matches are set to be a very tough test for a new-look Australia side, with coach Tony Gustavsson looking for fringe squad members and the next generation of stars to put their hand up as potential World Cup players.
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The squad is without captain Sam Kerr, vice-captain Steph Catley, and a core group of players including attackers Caitlin Foord, Kyah Simon, Hayley Raso, and Mary Fowler. Centre-back Alanna Kennedy is absent, while superstar fullback Ellie Carpenter is a long-term out after a heartbreaking ACL tear. Aivi Luik is also absent from the camp, while Kyra Cooney-Cross was a late call-up to replace midfielder Alex Chidiac, who recently suffered a concussion and broken nose playing in the NWSL in the USA.
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That core group of nine or ten players have just finished their domestic seasons, and have been granted the opportunity to rest and rehabilitate – a rarity for a group which has typically played domestic and international football throughout the entire calendar year, with no genuine off-season, for over a decade.
In their absence, the squad is filled with players in form – including a heavy presence from the A-League Women – and stacked with pace, and power. Crucially, a number of players offer positional and tactical flexibility, which could be vital for the 2023 World Cup.
Coach Gustavsson said: “This upcoming camp and international window is a big opportunity for many players in the squad selected … As we draw closer to the commencement of the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia and New Zealand 2023™, all our decision-making is centred around the strongest possible preparation for all players vying to be a part of 23 (players) in 23.”
“Selection for this June squad has been based on a combination of factors but ultimately it has been about individualising player programs with a long-term view … For some players, this has meant being a part of these invaluable matches with Spain and Portugal providing a chance to demonstrate how they can make our team stronger. For another cohort, it results in being proactive around reoccurring ailments and re-establishing a fitness baseline without the need to focus on peaking for matches.”
The squad includes a host of potential debutants in Celtic’s Jacynta Galabadaarachchi, Mackenzie Hawkesby, Matilda McNamara, Jamilla Rankin, and Taylor Ray. Nine other players have 10 caps or fewer.
But there are some experienced faces to balance the side: 99-cap goalkeeper Lydia Williams,
centurions Clare Polkinghorne, Emily van Egmond, and Tameka Yallop, and half-centurions Katrina Gorry and Emily Gielnik.
All in all, the matches are an opportunity to face very tough opponents – including a first-ever meeting with 10th-ranked Spain, led by Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas.
Both Spain and neighbours Portugal look to dominate possession and should provide a valuable learning experience for Australia’s emerging stars.
Spain v Australia
Date: Sunday, 26 June, 5.30am (AEST)
Venue: Estadio Nuevo Colombino, Huelva
Broadcast: Network 10
Portugal v Australia
When: Wednesday, 29 June, 6.00am (AEST)
Venue: Estádio António Coimbra da Mota, Estoril
Broadcast: Network 10