The Matildas selection questions Tony Gustavsson must answer for the Women's World Cup
The Matildas are only weeks away from opening their FIFA World Cup campaign in front of a bumper home crowd at Stadium Australia. As other competing nations name their squads for the tournament, the Matildas are expected to follow suit shortly.
While consistency in squad selection could mean Tony Gustavsson makes few significant calls for the tournament, injuries and form could also shape the final World Cup squad.
Several players seem to have their tickets booked for July. However, there are some final spots still up in the air. With most league seasons now wrapped up and very few players in the selection pool in action, decisions will be made purely on what Gustavsson sees in certain personnel.
With this World Cup squad selection possibly being the most important in Matildas' history, FPF looks at the questions Gustavsson must answer when shaping the final 23-player contingent.
The 397-cap conundrum
Despite an interrupted season, Alanna Kennedy recently signed a contract extension with Manchester City. (Manchester Football)
The biggest question hanging over Gustavsson’s head is what he does with the experienced Matildas personnel under injury clouds. Alanna Kennedy, Kyah Simon, Emily van Egmond, and Chloe Logarzo have all had contrasting stints on the sidelines recently. But they are all in the conversation to be included or excluded from the final squad.
Van Egmond and Kennedy are recent concerns. Kennedy has battled injury throughout the season but has still managed to get some minutes on the pitch. She overcame a shoulder injury late last year and battled through a calf injury in recent months. However, Kennedy was forced to miss Manchester City’s end-of-season run-in. It’s currently unclear what the extent of her situation is. Matilda McNamara, involved in the April squad, could present an alternative for Gustavsson.
Van Egmond was withdrawn from the Matildas squad after the Scotland friendly in April and has only made one appearance since for her club San Diego Wave. While she is no longer a regular starter for Australia, with Gustavsson preferring the midfield duo of Katrina Gorry and Kyra Cooney-Cross, it would still be a wealth of experience to leave out.
Kyah Simon and Chloe Logarzo are the significant concerns. Simon suffered an ACL injury in October 2022 and has not played since. Considering Ellie Carpenter's timeline following the same injury, Simon could be cleared for the World Cup. But match fitness is still an issue.
Gustavsson would need to decide whether he prefers the experience and undoubted quality that will come with Simon’s inclusion, even though she may only play a bit-part role backing up the preferred front line of Cortnee Vine, Caitlin Foord, Mary Fowler, and Sam Kerr. Deciding against Simon would mean he prefers an option with more minutes under their belt and in a better shape to impact matches.
Fan favourite Logarzo has struggled for fitness throughout the 2022/23 season, only making six appearances, all off the bench for an average of 36 minutes per game. Her last came in mid-January. A persistent foot injury has seen Logarzo sidelined since, and the lack of minutes and increased competition in midfield will most likely see her miss out, particularly if Emily van Egmond regains her fitness in the meantime.
The question Gustavsson faces here is, as all these players are familiar with the side, do they automatically regain their places when fit? Or will he place his faith in those who have successfully covered them in the interim?
Stick with Crummer or gamble on another striker?
Larissa Crummer during the Matildas recent friendly against Scotland. (ESPN)
The most contentious point in the squad is the persistent inclusion of Brisbane Roar striker Larissa Crummer. First brought back into the fold for the Spain and Portugal friendlies in June 2022, Crummer has been a consistent presence since.
While her return to the squad made for a feel-good story at the time and didn’t raise many eyebrows, as it was a heavily rotated squad, Crummer has struggled to make a meaningful impact on the team.
Gustavsson has previously described Crummer as “one of the best pressing forwards in the world”, which is a role she plays rather well. However, many other forwards on the periphery of the Matildas squad can also perform this role and are in better goalscoring form.
Crummer’s performances lately have often left fans underwhelmed and slowly bemused by her ongoing selection. Her last appearance for the Matildas brought this frustration to a head. Crummer started against Scotland in the most lacklustre attacking display from the national team since the Canada series in September last year.
A short-term move to Norway during the A-League Women's off-season could help to bolster her stocks and provide an edge over her counterparts, as Crummer maintains match fitness closer to the World Cup.
However, as I stated on The Front Page Football Podcast in April, it would take her “blowing that league (the Toppserien) out of the park” to change the minds of many Matildas' fans about her spot in the squad. With only two goals in 11 games since, it’s safe to say opinions remain unchanged.
Questioning a spot in the squad is futile should no one be available to challenge it. In this case, though, Gustavsson may rue overlooking other attacking talent in the A-League Women. Despite a heavily interrupted season due to injury, Melina Ayres finished the season with 12 goals in 13 games. Meanwhile, Michelle Heyman also recorded that tally in 18 matches.
Gustavsson will unlikely turn to anyone he has not already tested, so the most likely inclusions should Crummer be replaced are either Remy Siemsen or Holly McNamara.
Does the formation change impact squad selection?
The Matildas won all three of their Cup of Nations matches earlier this year with a newly implemented system. (Her Football Hub)
At the start of 2023, Gustavsson began with a 4-4-2 formation, moving away from the 4-3-3 he had used consistently since the Tokyo Olympics in 2021. During that campaign, the Matildas often lined up in a 3-4-3. Gustavsson's ability to constantly evolve the Matildas tactically has allowed them to grow during his tenure, and they have undoubtedly improved since his first game in February 2021.
However, what does the tactical identity mean for his squad selections? There is already a recurring theme of Gustavsson selecting squads that seem light on midfielders, and a two-person midfield could be a reason to lean further into this trend.
The last Matildas squad included six listed midfielders, albeit two were Alex Chidiac and Amy Sayer. They are better suited to the wider attacking roles in the current system. It left Gorry, Cooney-Cross, Clare Wheeler, and Tameka Yallop as the options for the midfield, and it would be unnecessary to take more than one other option for this area.
Therefore, we could see increased personnel in the side's forward or defensive stocks, particularly in attack, as Gustavsson likely prefers many striking options to adapt to different scenarios.
This squad structure would suit Crummer, Siemsen, and Holly McNamara. Possibly Kyah Simon, too, depending on her fitness, and each adds different styles and strengths to the team and could be included without one spot being compromised for another.
However, an extra defender could be added to the mix to cover Alanna Kennedy, like Matilda McNamara, should she not be 100 per cent.
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Gustavsson has prioritised consistency with his recent Matildas squads. (CommBank Matildas)
Gustavsson's strategy since the Asian Cup last year has been to gel a core group of players together and help build familiarity with each other, himself, and his system. Consistent squad selection over the past 18 months means several spots in the final World Cup squad are all but sealed.
The three goalkeepers are expected to be the European-based trio of Lydia Williams, Tegan Micah, and Mackenzie Arnold. Ellie Carpenter’s recent return from injury will all but see her confirmed in the side alongside Steph Catley, Clare Polkinghorne, Courtney Nevin, and Charlotte Grant. Clare Hunt’s impressive performances since being introduced into the squad will most likely see her also included.
In midfield, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Clare Wheeler, Tameka Yallop, Katrina Gorry, and Alex Chidiac are expected to be selected. Caitlin Foord, Hayley Raso, Mary Fowler, and Cortnee Vine are the forwards expected to help ease the attacking burden on captain Sam Kerr.
Despite a large core group of players all but guaranteed to be at the World Cup, decisions surrounding key personnel still need to be made. At least one or two experienced players will likely be left out. However, the past six months taught us that this side's depth is strong enough to handle any high-profile omissions.
The Women's World Cup squad must be submitted to FIFA by July 10. We will know Gustavsson's final 23-player contingent within the next month.
The Matildas open their campaign against the Republic of Ireland on July 20 before an expected sell-out crowd at Stadium Australia. Despite expectations from Football Australia being kept to a minimum, hopes are high amongst fans for this campaign. A deep run is certainly possible with the pool of players at Gustavsson's disposal.
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