Irreplaceable Sam Kerr leaves his mark on England in Matildas’ stunning win

<span>Photo: Dave Shopland/Shutterstock</span>” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/″data- src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/″</div>
<p><figcaption class=Photography: Dave Shopland/Shutterstock

Just 100 days after their World Cup home opener against the Republic of Ireland in Sydney, the Matildas delivered a stunning victory that will raise excitement and expectations at home. In ending the 30-match unbeaten run of the world’s fittest side in England, Tony Gustavsson’s side put in a gutsy display which showed all of his mettle and his qualities on the counter-attack.

Beyond all this, however, one of the main points emerging in west London was the need for the Matildas to protect Sam Kerr at all costs. There will therefore be plenty of concern as the Australian captain limped off the field in added time to be replaced by Alex Chidiac. An issue that in all honesty sounded more like fatigue than anything else; the forward gave a wry smile as he walked off before strapping an ice pack to his knee.

Related: Kerr and Grant score as Australia ends England’s sloppy unbeaten run

The Matilda Talisman, for all its cunning and offensive energy, is Australia’s not-so-secret weapon. Without her, like in the defeat against Scotland last Friday, they look like half a team. She is their spearhead, a player with the tenacity and vision to make even the best defenders in the world cringe, whose presence forces them to make mistakes they normally wouldn’t make. That was the case in the rain at Brentford where the pressure from her meant that Leah Williamson, one of the calmest players in existence, ruffled her lines at the back.

After an early start in which England dominated possession and creating chances, it was Kerr’s goal in the 32nd minute that took his breath away. The awareness of him was precise, the finish deft, as he lifted his shot above the stranded Mary Earps, who had been sold short by a soft header from her captain.

Kerr had put his stamp on this game, as he so often does for club and country, and the Lionesses’ backline has never been the same since. Each counterattack caused trepidation, whether it was going deep to affect play or breaking lines with his seemingly endless reserves of energy. Unsurprisingly then, she was the focus of Australia’s second goal. Snapping once more, she turned supplier as she held up a pointed cross for Charlotte Grant to walk home. There was some luck in the finish, a deflection from Williamson sending Earps in the wrong direction, but Australia deserved it.

Despite the certainty about Kerr, there are still many unknowns around Gustavsson’s team and what heights it can reach in the World Cup. Their injury list is extensive and they entered this April camp with at least five of their key players out with a variety of ailments. While Ellie Carpenter was a welcome returnee for these two games, Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley, Kyah Simon, Emily Gielnik and Alanna Kennedy were all sidelined. When and if the quintet’s return will still be up for debate, but with over 600 attendances between them, they will certainly add quality to the promise this display has presented. One concern, however, will be the loss of Tameka Yallop to an ankle injury in the first half. The midfielder came out on crutches and an assessment will be needed to establish the extent of the damage.

The absence of his more experienced heads provided Gustavsson with the opportunity to concede minutes to some of his younger contingent. Six under-25 players lined out against Scotland, five against England with Clare Hunt continuing the start of her Matildas career with another good performance at centre-back. Being partnered with the wisdom of Clare Polkinghorne in defense will have given the new Matildas player plenty of confidence going forward. The pair coped with everything England’s attack threw at them, whether it was keeping an eye out for low balls on goal or showcasing their aerial prowess to beat the likes of Alessia Russo in the air.

Australia’s midfield mirrors this. The relationship between Katrina Gorry and Kyra Cooney-Cross, one of the Matildas’ brightest young talents, grows with each game, and they control and close the gap in the middle for most of the game. They rarely gave England an inch to work with, intentionally pressing and disrupting the flow of the hosts’ attack.

It was a performance and an achievement which proved more than anything else that, in their day, this Australian team can compete with the best in the world. Whether it is enough to regard them as genuine contenders for the trophy remains to be seen, but the signs for Gustavsson’s side were positive in their final overseas before the World Cup. Only pre-tournament warm-up matches remain – a fixture against France is currently scheduled – but the comfort of home can only boost Australia’s confidence ahead of the biggest tournament in their history.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *