“We are fairly close to the final squad and I know it’s going to be a tough selection process come July 2nd.”
June’s series against New Zealand was the final chance for Matildas head coach Alen Stajcic to assess players in an “in game” environment before he makes his 20 player selection for the Rio 2016 Olympics.
While a majority of the main 18 player squad (plus to alternates) looks to be settled, there are still some tough decisions to be made.
Boarding pass please!
At the top end of the squad, the decisions appear to be a little easier for Stajcic. Co-captains Lisa De Vanna and Clare Polkinghorne are surely locked in for Rio. As are the defensive line of Lydia Williams, Alanna Kennedy, Laura Alleway and Steph Catley that has served Australia so well in the past 12 months.
Despite patchy performances in the second match against New Zealand, the Matildas midfield trio of Elise Kellond-Knight, Emily van Egmond and Katrina Gorry have been a source of stability, creativity and goals for Australia from Canada to Japan. While Tameka Butt time and again reprises her role as a solid support player off the bench to be used either in the midfield or pushed up the park as a supporting forward.
Up front the rotating centre forwards Michelle Heyman and Kyah Simon have done the job time and again under Stajcic. Meanwhile the versatile Caitlin Foord has moved up the pitch and brought some stellar form ahead of Rio 2016. In her first Women’s World Cup in 2011, Foord lit up the tournament and could well do so again in a first Olympics.
Rising for Rio
Injury gave attacking midfielder Chloe Logarzo an opportunity to break into the Matildas squad and the 21 year old took the chance and ran with it. Her energy, pace and aggression has added to the Matildas attack as demonstrated by her performances over the two matches against New Zealand. It would be a surprise if the Sydneysider was not punching her ticket to Brazil.
Another player’s stock to rise in their recent outings for the national team is centre back Caitlin Cooper. With Polkinghorne moving into the right back position, Cooper has stepped into the third centre back position and, against New Zealand on the weekend, the 28 year old looked relatively comfortable on the ball and in defence alongside Alanna Kennedy.
With Lydia Williams firmly entrenched in the number 1 position, the battle for the second goalkeeping spot comes down to Queenslanders Mackenzie Arnold and Casey Dumont. Both bring positives to the position, Arnold with her athleticism and sweeping ability and Dumont with her reading of the game and strong positional awareness. The task of splitting the two will not be an easy one.
The final positions in the squad will be where the fiercest battles could be fought. Larissa Crummer was in fine form in the W-League and set for the Olympic Qualifiers before injury struck. While teenage sensation Ellie Carpenter would be handy cover for the full back positions as would Teigen Allen depending on how much defensive support will be selected.
In terms of the midfield support, the experience and maturity of Caitlin Munoz could provide back up holding midfield cover after being a big part of the pre-tournament preparation.
Then there is the Samantha Kerr question. At her best and fully fit, Kerr is one of the first names on the Matildas team sheet but, for the second tournament running, the dynamic winger is in a race against time to be fit and available for selection. The good news is Kerr is back training and playing.
The bad news is there is just less than four weeks, and limited matches, before Stajcic names his squad. Fortunately, after the squad is named, there will be a four week training camp in Brazil prior to the opening game against Canada on 3 August.
— The Women's Game (@TheWomensGame) June 12, 2016
The question is whether Stajcic will deem the “x factor” and attacking qualities of Kerr worth the risk.
As witnessed with the AFC Women’s Olympic Qualifiers, the best laid plans can go awry. In that case, recent participants in the Qualifiers Emily Gielnik and Ashleigh Sykes would be first in line for a call up as would Aivi Luik who is back playing the English FA WSL. Forward Tara Andrews and defender Georgia Yeoman-Dale will also have further chances to press for a Rio selection claim in the coming weeks.
Those battles for the final places will heat up in the last three weeks of the preparation as players try to convince the coaching staff they should be on the plane for Australia’s first Olympics appearance in 12 years.