Whilst the Matildas stars playing in England are well known to the local audience, Saturday’s clash at Kingsmeadow gives fans a chance to see a group of hugely exciting Australian football stars that may not be quite so well known. Impetus’ Kieran Yap, Ben Gilby, Jonathan Tay, and Kris Goman profile five players, plus our African Women’s Football correspondent Emmanuel Faith brings us the low down on the South Africa squad.
Above: Coming to a football stadium near you – The Matildas. Photo: Kris Goman for Impetus.
The Matildas. Sam Kerr, Caitlin Foord, Steph Catley, Mary Fowler, Kyah Simon, Hayley Raso, Alanna Kennedy, Emily Gielnik – all top players plying their trade in the Women’s Super League. Yet the Australian team who step out on South West London soil on Saturday to face South Africa contain a whole host of hugely exciting players that local fans need to keep an eye on.
by Ben Gilby
Whilst the loss of Ellie Carpenter with an ACL injury is a huge one for Australia, they can point to having one of the game’s most sparkling youngsters to come in and establish herself as the outstanding international defender that she has promised to be for quite some time.
The 21-year-old had a break-out year in 2021 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, Grant has established herself in the Matildas team with several impressive performances. One, in particular, came in exceptionally tough circumstances in Spain earlier this year when a heavily weakened Australian team went down 7-0 to a Spanish side just heading to the Euros.
It was a game in which Grant admitted she “learned a lot. I had to stay so focused. I had to focus on one thing at a time – each individual thing as it happened. One tackle at a time, one pass at a time. It will definitely help me going into future games.” It was a performance that won Grant the Matildas player of the match award.
After that match Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson spoke of “losing a game, but maybe winning a player.” For me, he did win a player that night in Charli Grant. She fulfilled everything that people who have watched her develop for several years knew was there.
The South Australian has everything you want from a modern-day defender. The pace to burn in launching attacks on top of an ability to watch the game develop in front of her as well as a supreme ability in being alert to and snuffing out danger from multiple players around her due to a naturally ingrained sense of positioning.
Charli Grant is the real deal and would make waves in the WSL should she ever have an opportunity to move here.
by Kris Goman
Cortnee Vine is a 24-year-old who has played the entirety of her professional career in the W-League and A-League Women (ALW), establishing herself as one of the leading players in the competition.
The Sydney FC star plays on the right, usually on the wing but with experience at right back too. Known for her gang busting runs down the flank and impeccable crosses, Vine is an explosive player who exciting to watch. She’s fast and tenacious, like a terrier, and doesn’t give up in a tackle either.
Capable of scoring some spectacular goals, her real strength is in the assists. She can put the ball to the feet or the head of the striker from distance and can read the play well enough to know the perfect spot to deliver the ball to. Vine is an impact player so expect an explosion when she takes the field.
Vine’s first taste of senior football came at the age of 16 when she became a train-on for Brisbane Roar and soon after received her first W-League contract. She was with the Queensland side until she was 18, and in that time was selected for the Young Matildas and remained in that squad until she turned 20.
After playing for Heidelberg United in the Victoria NPLW, Vine then signed a contract with the Newcastle Jets in the W-League where she stayed from 19 to 21 years old, playing for Sydney University as her NPL club. In 2019, she signed for Western Sydney Wanderers for a year and also changed NPL clubs to Sydney Olympic. The following year, at 22 years old, she signed with Sydney FC.
Vine has not looked back since, starting every match of the 20/21 season with Sydney, scoring four goals, until she injured her MCL in the second last game of the regular season, meaning she missed her team’s Finals campaign. Many thought that she was playing so well that she deserved a Matildas call up but the injury put paid to that. Thankfully she recovered over the off-season and was able to start again with Sydney for the 21/22 ALW season. She picked up where she left off and the long-awaited call-up came soon enough.
At the beginning of 2022, she got invited to the Matildas camp in UAE and was selected for the final Asian Cup squad. Vine got her first cap against the Philippines on 24th January and has been part of the squad since, earning seven caps.
In the interim, her season with Sydney FC saw them win the premiership and be runners-up in the Grand Final once more, and Vine scored another nine goals along the way. She’s back with the Harbour City side once more for the forthcoming ALW season.
by Jonathan Tay
For some time now, The Matildas have been desperately searching for defensive help.
Whether due to a lack of talent or the requisite development pathways, arguably outside of the current starting back-four, there have been question marks surrounding all other candidates, particularly within the Tony Gustavsson era.
With a home World Cup on the horizon, the urgency levels have risen. The absences of Arsenal’s Steph Catley for recent friendlies and Lyon’s Ellie Carpenter, out long term (ACL), have magnified the public focus on the need to build depth on the backline.
That’s where left-back Courtney Nevin comes into the picture. One of a host of young players who Gustavsson has blooded and attempted to integrate into the Australian squad, Nevin made her debut in a pre-Olympics friendly against Denmark last year. With the versatility to play either as a wingback or left-sided central defender, she has now become a fixture for international call-ups, racking up 14 caps for the Matildas.
Offering solidity and stability in an otherwise in-flux Melbourne Victory backline last season, Nevin played in 15 of 17 matches, including their victorious Grand Final match. Throughout their title-winning campaign, the 20-year-old showed an ability to buzz up and down the left flank, and bend parabolic balls into the box, both from open play and from set pieces.
Nevin, along with Victory teammate Kyra Cooney-Cross, earned a first international move abroad for the 2022 season, signing on with Hammarby IF of Sweden. She has been an almost ever-present on the left side in the Damallsvenskan, chipping in with two goals and four assists for the club. Recently, that flexibility has been on display, with the Australian moving into more of a centre-back role, to make space for ex-Chelsea defender Jonna Andersson out on the wing.
There is a combative side to Nevin’s game as well; she relishes defensive duels, unafraid of leaving her mark on opponents. At times, this can lead to youthful overzealousness – she has been lucky to have escaped a red card in each of her past two starts for the Matildas against Portugal and Canada.
The consistency which comes with maturity is something still to be honed in her game, with glaring defensive lapses of concentration and misplaced passes still an occasional issue. Ideally, with greater experience and exposure in Europe, she adjusts to a faster pace of play and level of competition.
For Australia though, there is a lot of hope being placed on Nevin’s shoulders. With her teenage years still large in the rearview mirror, there is yet a long runway for her to fulfil her potential – Matildas fans will just be crossing their fingers that it’s realised sooner rather than later.
by Kieran Yap
Katrina Gorry is currently Australia’s best midfielder and a favourite of Australian fans, and has been for a very long time. At the age of 30, the Vittsjö GIK and Brisbane Roar playmaker (she divides her year between the A-League Women and the Damallsvenskan) has been a star for club and country.
Gorry qualified Australia for the 2016 Olympics with a brilliant individual qualifying tournament. She scored the winning goal against North Korea with just eight minutes to play to cap off a gruelling and intense tournament in style. A year earlier, she was crown the AFC Player of the Year for 2014. Seven years on, Gorry’s powers have not diminished.
‘Mini’ as she is affectionately known is diminutive in stature but powerful and skilful with the fitness to dominate a match from midfield. She has quick feet, and the bravery and confidence to receive the ball under pressure and usually move it forward. Her most spectacular asset is her shooting. Brisbane Roar have one of the leagues most unstoppable weapons in her right foot than can either be a wand to bypass defenders or a sledge hammer to render goalkeepers helpless.
Gorry’s role for the national team is slightly different from at club level. Week to week, she is used in a more attacking position. At Brisbane, she is given almost free reign to wander about the pitch knitting the team together and scheming to release Roar’s pacey attack.
For The Matildas, coach Tony Gustavsson has used her in a deeper role. The manager has been without an experienced player in the “six” position for his entire tenure. Gorry’s ability to control possession and the tempo of s game has helped Australia regain composure in the middle of the park.
Under the previous national team managers, Gorry was either used off the bench or not at all since 2016. Gustavsson has made her central to his recent plans. Gorry gives The Matildas style and grit in an essential position. Regular visitors to Kingsmeadow who loved watching Ji So Yun play will enjoy seeing Katrina Gorry in full flight.
by Kieran Yap
Kyra Cooney-Cross is a full decade younger than Gorry, but already has five seasons of professional football under her belt. The 20-year-old made waves as a speedy winger or striker for Melbourne Victory before moving up to Western Sydney Wanderers in 2019 after two seasons.
In an impressive Wanderers side, Cooney-Cross flourished. She was supported on field by US internationals Lynn Williams and Kirsten Hamilton and future Bristol City and Lazio midfielder Ella Mastrantonio.
She was given more game time at Western Sydney and quickly developed into a star of the A-League Women’s as the club reached the top four for the first time in their history.
Upon her return to Melbourne Victory the following season, she reached another level. At just 18, Cooney-Cross was given almost total freedom by manager Jeff Hopkins as Victory charged to a Grand Final win.
Although she spent most of her time in the central areas of the pitch. She used her pace, tenacity, and ball control to dribble through the middle of the ground and break open play.
Her passing range has developed impressively and while she is still developing at international level, she is still able to use that vision and technique to spread play and set up attacks for Australia.
Cooney-Cross has been around the senior Matildas squad for some time. She trained with the team prior to the 2019 World Cup, and made her senior debut at the Tokyo Olympics. In friendly matches against Brazil she looked completely at home against strong opposition and although shifted to a wing against Canada, she was able to get a few shots on target despite Australia’s lacklustre performance in Brisbane.
She is a unique talent. Still raw in many ways but extremely exciting to watch. She is capable of winning the ball on her own and running the length of the pitch with well-timed burst of acceleration.
The youngster is more than just a tremendous individual player. In Victory’s 2021/22 injury-hit season, she adjusted her game and curbed her natural freewheeling instincts to sit deep and play disciplined football to protect Melbourne’s makeshift defence.
Cooney-Cross came under criticism for her performances, which her less eye-catching than earlier seasons. But her contributions were crucial to Victory retaining the championship.
After winning the decider off her own boot with a spectacular goal direct from a corner kick in the last second of extra time, Cooney-Cross was a hero to Victory supporters for sacrificing her own game to get the team back to the top.
Now at Hammarby in Sweden, the midfielder is back to her galloping best. since recovering from a knee injury, she has been a regular starter at club level and has a growing highlights reel that looks very familiar to long-time fans.
Cooney-Cross has not yet reached these heights for The Matildas, but has been a favourite of Gustavsson since he took over. She seems destined to be a big name in the future of women’s football, and well worth watching if you can get along to the ground.
In years to come, you might be telling people you saw her back when…
by Emmanuel Faith
South Africa are a quality team in their own right; currently 54th in the recent FIFA rankings, and recently crowned African champions beating the reigning champions and the host on their way to the triumph, the Banyana Banyana are not a team to brush aside.
Style of Play:
Like most African teams, the South Africans are quite physical in nature. Most of the players play in the South African leagues and have either played together or against one another, thus they have a seamless synchrony when they are representing the national team.
They boast of explosive midfielders like Refilo Jane, Karabo Dhlamini, and Linda Motlhalo who are bold ball-holders and quick ball-movers. They have the ability to pick incisive passes and split the midfield and defense of the opposition with a single pass, or a one-touch quick exchange.
This was how the first goal in their opening match against Morocco during the WAFCON finals was scored. A field-splitting pass from Refilo Jane to Jermaine Seoposenwe who held on two defenders before laying a pass for Hildah Magaia who had a simple task of slotting the ball into the back of the net with the keeper almost beaten.
Another goal of such similitude was the second goal they scored against the former WAFCON reigning champions, the Super Falcons of Nigeria. A quick interception and a simple pass found Refilo Jane, who waited before playing a weighted pass that beat both Michelle Alozie and Osinachi Ohale, and landed on the perfect side of Hildah Magaia to deliver another classic finish. The Matildas would have to be wary of those three as they can wreak havoc at the slightest chance.
Where the game would be won:
The Banyana Banyana play possession-based football and have the ability to move in quick transitions. To conquer them, Australia need to do is to stifle their access to the ball, and restrict the time they spend on it through quick and diagonal pressing. That was how Brazil beat them recently. Another weakness is their height which is often a spot to explore when defending set pieces. Their centre-backs Noko Matlou and Bambanani Mbane are 1.64m and 1.62 m respectively and that is a space Mary Fowler and Sam Kerr might be looking to exploit, especially from corners, free-kicks, and crosses.
The South Africans are quick on the counter-attack thus the Matildas defenders like Courtney Nevin and Steph Catley have to be at alert to these threats.
Players to watch out for:
Her coach calls her hardworking and versatile; those words are mild to describe Jermaine. Her ability to play as a top striker, a second striker, a supporting striker, or on either wing makes her one of the most dangerous players you can play against. The absence of the Banyana Banyana rockstar, Thembi Kgatlana has been a big blow to the squad, but it is safe to say that Jermaine has stepped up to the responsibilities, playing the multiple roles of creating, assisting, and sometimes scoring goals when necessary. The Aussies must be wary of her tricks and movements on and off the ball.
Since making her debut in 2016 against Cameroon where she scored her first goal, Motlhalo has stamped her name in the heart of her coach and is always available to make magic, either from the bench as a substitute or as a starter alongside Refilo Jane. She is one of the few South African players who has spent the last four years playing outside the South African league. This often reflects in her style of play as she combines the experience of NWSL (Houston Dash), the quick-witted style of Chinese League, and the tenacity of playing the Swedish league. There are probably only a few midfielders better than her in the continent right now and she would be hoping to deliver a world-class performance on Saturday.
After a superb performance at the recently concluded WAFCON, the absence of Thembi Kgatlana and the option of using Jermaine Seoponsewe as a right winger or supporting striker means Magaia is now wearing the number-nine jersey and shouldering the responsibilities that come with it. Magaia is quite adept in nature, fast-paced, and knows how to open up her body and get the right positions in the box. She has a goal-poacher trait and is a massive threat anytime she is in the box.