Australian international Charli Grant spoke to Ben Gilby about her experiences at the Asia Cup at the start of the year and how she sees the new Damallsvenskan season with defending champions Rosengård (30/3/22).
Above: Charli Grant in action for Rosengård in the Svenska Cupen a fortnight ago. Photo: Rosengård.
20-year-old defender Charli Grant is one of Australia’s most talented young stars. Whilst 2021 was her break-out year with a sensational series of performances for Adelaide United in what was then the W-League earning a move to top Swedish side Rosengård. Add in her first call-ups for the national side and a trip to the Olympic Games with The Matildas and it was the stuff of dreams.
This year has the potential to be even better. Grant made her first start for Australia during the Asia Cup in January, and she has been a regular starter for Rosengård in their Swedish Cup matches and opening match in the Damallsvenskan which kicked off last weekend.
The Adelaide-born defender opened our conversation by describing what her off-season looked like after the previous Damallsvenskan campaign ended in November when her club lifted the title.
“Fortunately, I was able to come home for all of December and the beginning of January. I visited Townsville for a week with most of my family, where my cousin got married. We hadn’t seen my Aunty, Uncle, and cousins that live there for some time so it was a very special moment for the whole family.
“I’m thankful to have trained with Adelaide United women’s team for a short time before COVID heightened. For the remainder of the time, I continued to train hard on my own to be as best prepared for the Asian Cup. I’m so grateful to have managed to catch up with all my closest friends and family, especially during such an unprecedented time.”
Australia went into the Asia Cup as arguably the favourites for the competition this year. Prior to the tournament, the team gathered in the UAE for a training camp that was full of detailed preparation.
“Due to the different timings of everyone’s season and travel from all different parts of the world, training was focused on getting everyone at the same physical level,” Grant explained.
“Additionally, the teams we were facing in the Asian Cup had very different style of play compared to what we had faced recently, so we went through lots of tactics to be prepared for these styles.”
The tournament, held in India, was played behind closed doors due to COVID restrictions. The Matildas defender therefore had a different experience compared to her teammates from past Asia Cups, but she left with strong memories of the country nonetheless.
“Being in India was very eye-opening and a great cultural experience. The poverty was prevalent in the area we were staying in. It made me appreciate everything I have and the opportunities I have been given. I cherish every experience I have when representing my country and playing the sport I love.”
The tournament got underway for Australia in some style as they recorded an 18-0 win over Indonesia. It was a performance that Grant was proud of.
“It was very important to hit off with a big win and give us confidence going into future matches. To see what we had worked on during pre-camp into our game was really exciting and promising.”
In many ways that result was the high point of the competition for Australia as the remaining group matches saw the team find it hard to transfer large amounts of possession into scoreboard leads. The South Australian defender reflected on those matches.
“The Philippines was a tough contest but we remained patient and disciplined to the game plan to get a good result (4-0 win through second-half goals). Next up was Thailand. This was a great opportunity for us less experienced players to get time under the belt and experience playing in a tournament. At times we struggled to connect with each other but I think there were lots of promising moments and hopefully, we are able to fight for more game time in the future.”
Then came the Quarter-Final with South Korea. It was a match that Australia dominated once more in terms of possession, territory, and chances. Yet they were knocked out after a stunning strike from Chelsea’s magician Ji So-Yun. Grant remains frustrated by the outcome of that match.
“I thought in the Korea match we were disciplined with the game plan, but unlucky in some moments. As much as we are all gutted about this result, it is a great learning opportunity and is only going to add to the fire leading into World Cup to prove that we are a top team. I do think we were unlucky. Sometimes that can be football.”
Whilst the outcome of the tournament was extremely disappointing from a team perspective, it enabled Grant to make her first start for the Matildas in their final group game with Indonesia.
“To earn my first start and 90 minutes for my country was a dream come true. It was a good chance to gain confidence and put into practice what I’ve been working on. I’m very grateful to have been given that opportunity and will continue to work hard to improve from this.”
With the Asia Cup behind her, the defender returned to Sweden for the new Damallsvenskan campaign. Grant’s Rosengård team goes in as defending champions and have a UEFA Women’s Champions League campaign to look forward to. The South Australian asserts that she expects it to be an even tougher campaign as the rest of the league will be all out to bring down last year’s champions.
“It’s so exciting to finally have the season come up. It’s been a long pre-season and we just can’t wait to put into practice what we’ve trained on. I think it’s definitely going to be a tough season. We are prepared to step up to the challenge like last year and will do whatever it takes to win.”
Grant goes into the new season, which kicked off last weekend having had several starts in their Svenska Cupen campaign. The Matilda sees this as a reward for her growth in certain areas of the game.
“I feel that both my decision-making and composure on the ball have improved. If I continue to develop in these areas of my game and keep working hard hopefully more game time will come.”
The young defender has already been a part of her team making the Svenska Cupen Final in May and she sees this as just the start of a big season of opportunity for her.
“At an individual level, the goals for the upcoming season are to start regular and contribute to as many scoring opportunities whilst also preventing the opposition’s attacks. As a team, we are aiming to win the Swedish Cup, win the league back to back, and progress to the group stage and beyond in the UEFA Champions League.”
The campaign ahead sees a growing number of Australians in the Damallsvenskan and with COVID restrictions easing, Grant is looking forward to being able to catch up with them in person during the season.
“It’s really exciting to have more Aussies join the league. It will be great to catch up with them all. Kyra (Cooney-Cross) and Nev (Courtney Nevin, who have just joined Hammarby) are two of my closest friends and I’m so happy and proud of them to see them make the move overseas. Hopefully they will take me around Stockholm at some stage!”