South Australia's Charli Grant proud of "full guns blazing" World Cup debut
The clock had moved into the final minutes of the injury time allocated by referee Stéphanie Frappart. Australia’s demolition of Canada ensured safe passage as Group B leaders to the Round of 16 of the FIFA Women’s World Cup. Despite the job being done, Matildas head coach Tony Gustavsson provided South Australian fullback Charli Grant with the moment of a lifetime.
Charli Grant celebrates Australia's qualification to the Round of 16 of the FIFA Women's World Cup with her teammates. (Instagram: @charli_grant)
Having only made her Matildas debut in 2021, Charli Grant was on the fringes of the squad until a teammate’s heartbreak allowed her to consistently show the national team what she is capable of. Being behind Ellie Carpenter in the pecking order is an unenviable task, with the energetic fullback being one of the Matildas’ most important players. But Gustavsson entrusted Grant with filling a gaping hole at right-back when Carpenter succumbed to an ACL injury in the 2022 UEFA Champions League Final.
At the time, Grant was seen as a stopgap measure despite her noticeable talent. Meanwhile, Carpenter recovered from an injury that can often take up to a year to recover from and occurred too close to the World Cup for comfort. Grant was thrown into the deep end in a team missing star power and out of position in the centre of defence as the Matildas succumbed to a seven-goal loss to Spain and a tight draw against Portugal.
Grant continued growing her game internationally by captaining Australia at the 2022 AFF Women's Championship before starting the Matildas’ friendlies against Canada in September 2022. Despite her country’s disappointing performances, Grant began solidifying her place on the international stage.
The next stretch of Matildas' games saw the fullback start in victories against South Africa, Denmark, Sweden, and Thailand before she started two of Australia’s three Cup of Nations Games in February. It was evident Tony Gustavsson had become comfortable with Grant in his team, with the former Adelaide United player showing maturity beyond her years, even trusted with providing tactical information to her teammates by the coach.
Carpenter returned from her injury in early 2023 and was included in the Matildas squad to face Scotland and England in the United Kingdom in April. Gustavsson's trust in Grant became even more apparent when, despite Carpenter being restored to her right-back slot, the Swedish manager utilised the young fullback on the opposite flank to cover the absence of Steph Catley, another vital cog to the Matildas machine.
Grant rewarded her coach's trust by performing strongly and even opened her senior international scoring account against European champions England. With Carpenter and Catley fit and firing entering a World Cup on home soil, Grant was understandably squeezed out of the starting line-up for the group stage. But after the 4-0 win over Canada, the defender stated that regardless of team roles, the Matildas are united in a common goal, clear from the passionate celebrations on Australia's bench.
"It is amazing, we are a united team, and we celebrate everyone’s wins," Grant shared post-game.
"I think we got off our seats like 100 times, there were goals disallowed, goals allowed, so it was really exciting to be part of it. Like I said, I am really proud to be part of this team."
Australia put in a trademark backs-against-the-walls performance to thrash and eliminate Olympic Gold Medalists Canada. As did most of her teammates, Grant agreed it is under that pressure when Australia operates at their best.
Tony Gustavsson gave the young fullback her tournament debut in the match's final minutes, and the excitement was palpable at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium. Grant was so excited that she injured herself during the couple of minutes she spent on the pitch.
"I clashed heads with the girl; I just really had an attacking mindset coming on, I was buzzing getting on to the pitch, and I just went full guns blazing and clashed heads with her!" Grant shared on the head knock that saw her temporarily come off the pitch almost immediately after entering it.
She may not have played a significant part in the match. But Grant's FIFA Women's World Cup debut is an unforgettable moment for a defender who is still only 21. The fullback spoke about her pride in representing her country and about being an inspiration for young footballers in her native South Australia.
"It was amazing to get that 4-0 win and to top our group. We are all buzzing and feeling really excited for the next match. It feels surreal to debut here on home soil, but I am just really proud to be part of this group. I think we showed a lot of character tonight; it is an honour to play for my country," Grant added.
"Anything is possible; dream big, work hard, and you never know where you may end up. I am really proud to be from South Australia, and I wouldn’t be here without the support back home."
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Heading into the tournament's knockout stage, Grant believes a smashing victory like the one against Canada can propel the Matildas to a run that will make waves on home soil.
"I think we should take this with a lot of confidence and belief going into the next game. Canada are a really good team; they won the Olympics not long ago. I think we should take this (result) with a lot of confidence but also be humble in the win because we are going to face some really good opponents; every team in this tournament is competitive, but we will take a lot of belief moving forward," she said.
"We are such a high-pressing, high-octane team, so we are going to keep bringing that and hopefully get better and better as the tournament goes."
The Matildas take on Denmark at Stadium Australia in the Round of 16 on Monday night. Despite likely finding herself on the bench again, Grant is an essential member of Tony Gustavsson's side, able to slot anywhere in the backline as she has done in the past year when the team requires it. Regardless of her role for the rest of the tournament, Charli Grant's World Cup experience will only continue to benefit her and the national team.
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