The Matildas’ coach and captain are back in the spotlight for the first time since their fourth-place finish at the Women’s World Cup, with Tony Gustavsson saying he will heavily rotate his players for the Olympic qualifying matches in Perth.
Hometown hero Kerr arrived in the city on Tuesday from her English club Chelsea where she has only played limited minutes since recovering from the calf injury that sidelined her right before the first World Cup game in July.
“I think all of us would love to play Sam Kerr in 90 minutes every game,” Gustavsson said on Wednesday.
Tony Gustavsson says the Matildas’ training sessions have been limited due to players’ jet lag. Photograph: James Worsfold/Getty Images
“[But] considering she’s coming back from injury very recently, she hasn’t played 90 minutes in a very, very, very long time, not for club either with that calf issue … We need to be extremely mindful.
“As I did in the World Cup, I’m going to go by recommendation with my [medical] team. They are our experts in this field and they work very closely with Chelsea, because it’s [about] the total load over time.
“I think we can expect to see some rotation in this tournament so we don’t overload her with minutes.”
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Gustavsson did not specify whether Kerr would start the matches and then be substituted or come off the bench at the later stages.
The Matildas will start the second round of Olympic qualifying against Iran at HBF Park on Thursday as the first of three games on their path to the final round before Paris 2024.
With squad members arriving in Perth from overseas and interstate in dribs and drabs since the weekend, the Matildas have so far had just one training session with the full squad, Gustavsson said.
“When you have 10 players training today that arrived last night with jet lag – today’s session was a very different training session,” he said.
“Mentally and physically there’s very little you can do, so most of the preparation happens in meeting settings like this and then you transfer that on to the park. And that means maybe initially in this tournament that there can be some rusty performances … It also means that we’re going to rotate a lot in the roster because of the physicality and the wellbeing and the protection of the players.”
The Matildas train at HBF Park on Wednesday ahead of their opening game against Iran. Photograph: James Worsfold/Getty Images
Reflecting on the World Cup performance, Gustavsson said he thought the Matildas’ pressing game was a significant factor in them advancing to the semi-final, but they were let down in other areas.
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“We were one of the most efficient teams in the World Cup in terms of pressing efficiency and that’s one of the reasons we went as far as we did,” he said. “But in terms of the regain, meaning when we lost the ball and winning it back, we were not as good as the other top teams.
“There’s going to be challenging opposition [in Perth] that is very compact in the defence and we’ve experienced that before. We saw against Ireland and Nigeria in the World Cup that we struggled at times and we hope to improve in that area.”
After narrowly missing out on the World Cup squad, Amy Sayer was clearly motivated to get back her spot on the roster, Gustavsson said.
“She has been fantastic for Kristianstads in Sweden and is a well deserved selection for this camp,” he said.
“She looked really good in training today so I think you’re going to see some playing time for her.”
Earlier in the afternoon, Football Australia announced the Matildas had sold out all three of their Perth matches, making it a consecutive 11 sold-out games for the women’s national team.
The chief executive of FA, James Johnson, said the run of capacity crowds stretching back to a World Cup warm-up match in July highlighted the players’ appeal and “no small feat”.
“It’s a testament to the passion for women’s football in Australia,” he said. “The overwhelming support in Perth, from the intimate atmosphere at the football purpose built HBF Park to the grandeur of Optus Stadium, underscores the nation’s unwavering commitment to our women’s football team.”