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Sam Kerr primed for Philippines qualifier on road to Olympic gold

Sam Kerr has had an “icky” few months since the Women’s World Cup ended in August.

After her campaign was put on hold due to a calf injury sustained in training before the Matildas’ opening game against Ireland, Kerr led her team from off the field and didn’t take a step on it until the 79th minute of their last-16 win over Denmark. While the Australian captain was able to play in team’s quarter-final, semi-final and third-place playoff, much to the joy and relief of local fans, something happened in the match with Sweden that set her fitness back again.

“It’s been difficult to be honest,” Kerr said on Saturday ahead of the Matildas crucial Olympic qualifier against the Philippines. “I re-did my calf in the Sweden game … well not re-did it, I did the other one.”

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The moment came late in the second half of that game where Kerr caught her lower leg in a tackle with her former Chelsea teammate Magda Eriksson.

“I didn’t care at that point,” she said. “I just kept running, just kept playing until the last minute. I didn’t even really know [how bad it was] until I got back to Chelsea two weeks later. I knew it was sore … so I was rehabbing that and I’ve just had a bit of an icky run the last two months but now I’m getting back to full fitness.”

Kerr’s sights are now firmly set on the Paris 2024 Olympics, and the next hurdle the team must jump on the path to qualification – beating the Philippines on Sunday – poses a tougher challenge than Iran.

“It was always the big one for us this tournament,” Kerr said. “Last game a few girls got a chance to play and show what they can do. So, there’s lots of competition for spots and everyone’s really ready for tomorrow.”

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Sam Kerr and the Matildas train at Optus StadiumSam Kerr and the Matildas train at Optus Stadium the day before their match against the Philippines. Photograph: Will Russell/Getty Images

Both teams boast tough defences to crack, said Kerr.

“They set up in a good block and it’s hard to break down,” Kerr said. “I think the hardest thing in football now is when teams set up in that low block and have a fast striker up top like they do in a counterattacking. But look, they’ve had a new coach come in … so we’re just focusing on ourselves, taking everything [the Philippines have] done in the last game with a grain of salt because with a new coach you never really sure where they’re headed.”

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The Matildas captain said the rise of the Philippines on the international stage was a testament to the growth of the sport everywhere.

“All these countries now are investing so much more and you see these players like Sarina [Bolden] playing in the A-League, she had an amazing goal at the World Cup,” Kerr said. “I think the competition is getting better. It’s amazing that so many girls around the world now have opportunity to play for their country.”

Kerr came on as a substitute just after the hour mark in the first qualifying match against Iran which the Matildas won 2-0, along with Steph Catley and Mary Fowler at the same time. The injection of World Cup experience combined to set Kerr up for her first goal in her home town for a long time, something she did not take for granted.

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“Of course it’s nice and fun for our family and friends but it was nice to score in front of the Perth fans,” she said. “We haven’t played here in a while, I feel like they’ve always been massive supporters. I hope all the Perth people do come out because I love giving the eastern states a bit of stick about our Perth crowds.”

Back in Matildas camp together this week, Kerr can see that there are some changes within the squad compared to when they all assembled before the World Cup in July.

“Everyone just feels a little bit more confident in themselves because of how the country got behind us,” she said. “We feel like everyone is supporting us and wants us to do well.”

Another thing that some players are still getting used to is the newfound fame brought on by their World Cup heroics.

“Macca [Mackenzie Arnold], can’t walk down the street now without someone chasing her down, Kerr said. “We always used to joke that she was one of the ones that could get away with not getting a photo but now she’s getting chased down the street and I see Mackenzie Arnold T-shirts everywhere. So I think things like that have been the biggest change in our team, but it’s all for a good thing.

  • The Matildas play the Philippines in the second game of the Olympic qualifying tournament on Sunday in Perth. Follow live updates with our live blog, kick-off at Optus Stadium is 3.10pm AWST (6.10pm AEDT)