Above: Australia’s starting line-up against Thailand on Thursday, including four players making their full debuts. Photo provided to Impetus by: Football Australia.
Kieran Yap reviews the performances of the Matildas debut making players in the Asia Cup along with those who have come into the squad under Tony Gustavsson’s tenure (28/1/22).
Australia got the job done, and they did it comfortably. The score read 2-1 and on the surface that gives the impression that it was a tight game, but Thailand’s goal was in the literal final second of play. Whilst impressive, it was a consolation goal in the truest sense of the word.
Australia dominated play and when Emily van Egmond struck from the edge of the box it was reward for a first half that should have included more.
Sam Kerr entered the play in the second half and scored what would be the winner after Kyah Simon’s shot was spilled by the Thailand keeper.
The match itself was notable for the unfamiliar starting lineup. Nine changes were made from the 4-0 win over the Philippines. With qualification assured and only a draw needed to secure top spot, this was the perfect game to give the young players a chance against an opponent that poses a historical challenge for The Matildas.
Tony Gustavsson was effusive of his starting line-up. He was pleased that despite the vast difference in experience, they all played the same style and with the same intensity.
With that in mind, the best way to judge this game is by the performances of those players.
Charlotte Grant has been around the team for most of Gustavsson’s tenure. She was included in the extended Olympic squad but did not see game time in the tournament.
After impressing against Brazil with some tidy footwork and against the USA with a run and inch-perfect cross, she was given her first start against Thailand.
Grant’s value goes beyond her considerable skill. She is a natural fullback who can play on either flank. She started the game as a replacement for Ellie Carpenter and ended it in Steph Catley’s usual position.
She has pace, control, and a serious engine for somebody still eligible for the U20’s squad.
Grant’s versatility means that she provides double the depth another fullback would. Against Thailand, despite one or two wayward crosses, she showed that she was ready for serious internationals.
This is a player who could be very important if her career trajectory continues.
Courtney Nevin also played two positions in this match. The Melbourne Victory fullback started on the left where she was defensively solid while using her impressive left foot to deliver some good long passes.
In the second half, she switched to centre-back. She had impressed in the role in the second USA friendly and looks at home in either position.
Nevin started the move that would produce the winning goal. Her vision and technique were on full display when she switched play to Kyah Simon. The pass was stunningly accurate and helped pull the Thailand defence out of formation enough for The Matildas to forge an opening.
Nevin featured in the other group games, but this was her first start at the Asian Cup and she was excellent.
Clare Wheeler is in the side primarily for the defensive steel and ball retention that she brings to the midfield. Following her first game against Indonesia and her game-changing cameo against the USA, Wheeler is no longer a fringe player. She is a vital member of the team.
In this game, she was allowed to push forward more. After skipping a tackle and surging into the area, she was unlucky not to score. A volleyed effort in the second half was more difficult, but both attempts were reminders that Wheeler is more than just an enforcer.
Kyra Cooney-Cross is another who has been used in a deep role by Gustavsson. In her last two appearances, she has played more like she does in the A-League Women. Against both the Philippines and against Thailand, she used her pace and power to cruise through midfield in a familiar style.
Her first goal for the national team awaits, but she came very close in this match. The Thai player who blocked the shot immediately regretted it and sadly had to be stretchered off.
Cortnee Vine was fantastic and lived up to the considerable hype that has generated around her involvement in the tournament.
She looked as dangerous and creative as she does for Sydney FC. Vine gives the Matildas another speedy option on the right to go with Hayley Raso, Carpenter, and Grant.
The Matildas have depth and quality on that flank.
Holly McNamara ended the game the victim of a still unknown injury. She hobbled off the field in the second half and was replaced by Caitlin Foord. However, McNamara has effortlessly carried her domestic form to the national team.
Like Foord, she is a clever dribbler with tidy footwork and a few tricks in her boots. Also like Foord, she loves to cut inside and shoot off her right foot.
She is a creative attacker that likes to play on the left-wing. Australia has had few options for that position since Lisa De Vanna. Holly McNamara looks like a long-term prospect for the job who can still make an immediate impact.
Finally, there is Remy Siemsen. Other than Kerr, she is the only other centre-forward in the squad who is regularly completing 90 minutes in the role.
Australia has plenty of players who can fill the gap if Kerr is unavailable, but none have been consistently delivering as the spearhead.
Kyah Simon has had limited game time for Tottenham Hotspur and Foord is used in a variety of attacking positions at Arsenal. Emily Gielnik prefers to play centrally but has missed some football for Aston Villa with injuries. Mary Fowler is something of a super-sub in France but is needed as a playmaker for The Matildas.
That leaves Siemsen. She was good against Thailand and will be disappointed that her second-half shot did not go in. Her movement up front was as good as it is in the national league and she was willing to shoot when given the chance.
Remy Siemsen is important for depth upfront, and also has the quality to impact games. Her career has been on a steady incline over the past few years and if that continues she could be a valuable Matilda in the future.
Overall, the Thailand game saw some pretty impressive contributions from these new faces. Australia now has options, depth, and new possibilities as a result of this game.
Up next, they face South Korea in the quarter-final. This will not be an easy match but Australia is the favourites and there are no simple paths to the final.
The group stage performances and the emergence of the new players against Thailand show that as dangerous as the Koreans are, they also have plenty to worry about.