Charli Grant was one of the real positives from a difficult two friendlies against Spain and Portugal for Australia. Impetus’ Jonathan Tay analyses her performances in both games from a tactical and positioning perspective.
Above: Charli Grant – who lived up to her potential in an Australian shirt over the past few weeks. Photo: Football Australia.
It was the most prominent period of Charli Grant’s fledgling Matildas career. Not just the recent Andalusian friendly series, in which she completed both full games.
But more specifically, a 15-minute stretch in the second half of Australia’s match in Huelva, where she alone defensively stood up to the marauding Spain side.
Post-game, having received the Matildas’ Player of the Match award, the 20-year-old said, “The coaches told us to back ourselves out there, and I think there were lots of great moments we had which we’re going to take from the game, and of course a lot of learning opportunities as well.”
With the AFF Championships having commenced on 4th June, it provides Grant with another chance to really cement herself as a legitimate candidate for the Australian squad.
We look back at those moments from the past two friendlies where the young defender really impressed, and areas where she can continue to improve and hone her skills, heading towards a home World Cup in 2023.
From the 58th to the 73rd minute in the opening friendly, Grant showcased a complete array of defensive qualities, as La Roja targeted the right side of the Matildas’ backline.
Down 4-0 at the time, the beleaguered Australians were wilting under the pressure of a Spain side ramping up for the European Championships.
Having just conceded a fourth goal, the Matildas’ lines were broken again, with Grant facing a developing two-on-one.
With Ballon d’Or winner Alexia Putellas charging through midfield, Grant also has to keep track of forward Esther Gonzalez on her shoulder.
As the pass is played through to Gonzalez, the Australian does well to readjust, close down space quickly, and put in a foot to block the attempted cross.
A few minutes later, Clare Polkinghorne is drawn towards Gonzalez, dropping off the last line to initiate a wall pass.
As the Spanish number nine gets in behind the veteran to receive the return, Grant exhibits good instinct to cover for her centre back partner and snuff out the danger.
In the 72nd minute, Gonzalez looks to exploit a hole behind the young defender, timing a good run onto a ball over the top.
Grant though has smartly checked her blindspots, and flashes good pace to keep up with and fend off the Spanish forward, beating her to the through pass to clear.
From the ensuing throw-in, the silky Athenea del Castillo turnstiles Katrina Gorry, with open space ahead of her.
Grant once again is quick as a flash and gets out to front of the winger, preventing her entry into the 18-yard box.
In this short span, the youngster from Adelaide was able to display her quickness, tenacity, reactivity, and defensive nous off-the-ball against top European opposition. All in all, she racked up five defensive duel wins and 15 recoveries (most in the team in each category), along with five clearances.
Head coach Tony Gustavsson spoke before the game about wanting to see his players “bring the qualities they have in the local leagues to the international level”, and will have been pleased with Grant’s performance.
Though the Australians endured a heavy defeat (7-0 at the end of the night), the 20-year-old answered the Swede’s hopeful pre-match call of “losing a game, but winning a player” in the ongoing search for capable depth in the squad.
In the second friendly with Portugal, the Matildas were presented with a different type of challenge, afforded a much greater share of possession (27% vs Spain, 44% vs Portugal).
Seleção das Quinas though, are no slouches either – participating in the Euros themselves – and up against a youthful Australian side, were the better team on the balance of play (1.9 vs 1.1 Expected Goals).
Grant, for her part, also saw much more of the ball at her feet, with the Matildas able to play out from the back more frequently. With a greater emphasis on her skills in possession, results were a more mixed bag.
As a whole, the Australians were rusty, with a number of instances of poor ball control and misguided passing throughout the evening.
Here, in the 19th minute, Grant is unable to corral a straightforward backpass in the face of a quick press.
Her heavy touch allows Portugal to regain possession in a dangerous area, high upfield.
When allowed time on the ball though, Grant did at times show a good ability to find her teammates with passes from defence.
In the 29th minute, she fashions a great ball down the line to Emily Gielnik, beyond her marker.
Later in the play however, in a rare foray forward for this European trip, Grant telegraphs the cutback a little too openly. Dolores Silva is able to read it, step in and bring Portugal away on a counterattack.
Australia’s best chance of the first half probably encapsulated Grant’s night best. She initially gets lucky, escaping with the ball after a 50/50 challenge, following another miscontrol…
…before releasing Gielnik out wide 1-on-1 against her defender:
As the game went on and the Portuguese pressing intensity dropped off, the Matildas collectively grew into the contest. Grant’s own increased confidence was noticeable in the second half.
Here in the 79th minute, she collects the ball on the right and identifies space between the lines, beating her defender with a sure touch and burst of speed.
She again finds Gielnik out wide, and does well to continue her run and present herself as a viable option in the penalty box for a return pass.
The hope is that over the next year, Grant continues to gain exposure in a top level football environment, both domestically and internationally.
Speaking after the Spain friendly, she concluded, “We learned a lot from it. As a young defender, I just want to make the most of every opportunity.”
“It helped me massively being exposed to that sort of game. Going forward as a result, we’re only going to get better from here.”
The tournament in the Philippines provides another chance to earn minutes, and ideally she sees more playing time over her next club season in Europe (she played just 235 minutes for Rosengård in ‘21/22).
Gustavsson will want to see her continue to display a more consistent form, both with and without the ball, particularly with the increased level of competition and pace of play
“I have technically improved and my composure on the ball has improved as well,” Grant continued. “Being around the girls in the squad has taught me to be a better defender.”
“I know how much I have improved since I first came into the Matildas last year and my level will only go up going towards the World Cup.”
If she keeps on producing similar positive moments and impacts, she can assure herself that spot for Australia/New Zealand 2023.