Sam Kerr led from the front at Matildas training on Friday, but whether the star striker will start against France in Saturday’s FIFA Women’s World Cup quarter-final remains unknown.
The Matildas had their final training session at Perry Park, the home of former National Soccer League champions Brisbane Strikers, before their do-or-die weekend clash at Suncorp Stadium.
Kerr, who finally made her first appearance of the tournament when she came on as a late substitute in Australia’s 2-0 round-of-16 win over Denmark last Monday night, led the pack of Matildas as they did a warm-up lap.
The injured calf that cost her the chance to take part in any of the Matildas’ three Group B games didn’t seem to hinder her as she jumped up and down with the rest of the squad as the warm-up continued with a host of exercises.
If Kerr does start against France, it’s likely to come at the expense of either Emily van Egmond or young star Mary Fowler.
Kerr was able to join her Matildas teammates in running exercises at training after previously being consigned to the exercise bike and walking laps
It is hoped that Kerr will play more of a role against France after making her return from a calf injury against Denmark
Kerr showed what she can do in limited minutes against Denmark, now Aussie fans are hoping she can shake off the calf injury and put France to the sword
Coach Tony Gustavsson is set to be grilled on what he might do with Kerr at a pre-match press conference on Friday afternoon in Brisbane, but he has been reluctant to give away details before previous games.
If van Egmond were to make way, though, it would be a harsh cut after she stepped up when the Matildas needed her.
Van Egmond is a natural playmaker but in the past has been called upon in more deep-lying midfield roles.
As the Tony Gustavsson era progressed, the 30-year-old has spent more time on the bench, used as a ‘game changer’ to help unlock defences.
But with Sam Kerr injured, Gustavsson changed tack for crunch games against Canada and Denmark, shifting Caitlin Foord out wide and using van Egmond and Mary Fowler as false No.9s.
It’s paid off with the creative pair providing the perfect foil for Foord and Hayley Raso out wide.
Van Egmond and Fowler have been excellent and each have a goal and an assist to their name ahead of Saturday’s quarter-final against France at Suncorp Stadium.
‘I really like playing with Em. I think we’re able to just read off each other’s play really well,’ Fowler said.
‘So yeah it helps having us there and then having speedy wingers, it’s just happened to work quite nicely.
‘But she’s a smart player. So it makes it easy to work with her.’
Van Egmond is thriving alongside Fowler, 10 years her junior.
‘Obviously young Mary’s having herself a fine tournament,’ van Egmond said.
‘The combination we have – I think we work well together. We’re on the same page.’
Emily van Egmond has stood tall in the absence of Kerr and it would be a harsh call to omit her for the France clash
Likewise, 20-year-old Mary Fowler has been destructive this World Cup and it would be a difficult decision to drop her
For Australia’s second goal against Denmark, Fowler could have shot from long range but instead dinked the ball over the Danish defence to van Egmond, who took a touch and cut the ball back for Raso to score.
‘Did she mean it? I honestly thought she was lining up for a shot too,’ van Egmond said with a laugh.
‘It just shows the confidence this group has at the moment and the composure that we’re having now in the final third.’
The same front four appears likely to appear against France, though that could change if Kerr is fit to start.
Regardless, van Egmond insists she didn’t have a point to prove at a World Cup she’s taken in her stride.
‘I’ve just stuck to who I am and I back my ability every single day of the week,’ van Egmond said.
‘At the end of the day, you’re here, you’re part of a team.
‘We’ve got such good team morale and anyone who’s called upon at any given time is going to give their all.
‘That’s the most important thing for us as a team and that’s going to carry us further into the tournament than any individual.’
Matildas defender Clare Hunt said it was ‘amazing’ for Kerr to experience the roar she received when she came on in the 80th minute against the Danes.
‘To have the disappointment of not starting that first game, the way that she was met by the Australian crowd and by her teammates … that was special for her,’ Hunt said.
Kerr’s fellow striker Kyah Simon, who is yet to play in the tournament due to a pre-existing knee injury, warmed up with the squad on Friday before continuing her fitness program away from the rest of the group who then started ball work.
MATILDAS’ RECORD AGAINST FRANCE AT A GLANCE
Kerr and Wendie Renard of France contest the ball during their international friendly match between the Matildas and France at Marvel Stadium just before the World Cup
Saturday August 12, Suncorp Stadium, Brisbane
World rankings: Australia No.10, France No.5
Head-to-head: Played 8. Australia 4 wins, 1 draw, 3 losses
11/01/2001: 2-1 win (Australia Cup – Coffs Harbour, Australia)
14/01/2001: 1-1 draw (Australia Cup – Lismore, Australia)
17/01/2001: 1-0 win (Australia Cup – Gold Coast, Australia)
09/04/2002: 1-0 loss (Tournoi International de France – Limoges, France)
06/07/2013: 2-0 win (friendly – Angers, France)
07/03/2014: 3-2 loss (Cyprus Cup – Nicosia, Cyprus)
05/10/2018: 2-0 loss (friendly – Saint-Etienne, France)
14/07/2023: 1-0 win (friendly – Melbourne, Australia)