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Matildas def Ireland, Talking Points, Sam Kerr injury, how long is she out for, team reaction, Tony Gustavsson, latest, updates

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The Matildas faced an uphill task as soon as they found out Sam Kerr would be absent from their opening Women’s World Cup fixture against Ireland.

But Tony Gustavsson’s troops displayed a steely side that helped them get the better of a feisty Irish outfit in a gritty 1-0 victory.

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Without Kerr up front, it meant the attack would have to find a new way to get the desired result but it was far from pretty.

However Gustavsson was quick to point out that in tournament football, three points is as valuable as anything as the Matildas now gear up for their second Group B fixture against Nigeria on July 27.

Foxsports.com.au analyses the big moments from the Matildas’ World Cup opener in TALKING POINTS!

NO KERR, NO WORRIES! Matildas secure dream WWC start in front of record crowd

PLAYER RATINGS: Tillies star’s masterclass amid Irish onslaught; forwards fail to fire in Kerr’s absence

Kerr RULED OUT for WC opener | 01:07

MORE COVERAGE

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The blood, sweat and tears the Matildas shed to become World Cup contenders

MATILDAS MOTIVATED BY KERR INJURY

The Matildas have plenty of motivation. There’s the chance to make history – not just to go beyond the quarterfinals for the first time ever, but to win a maiden Cup. And to do it on home soil too. It’s a chance to deliver their own ‘Cathy Freeman moment’ and a lasting legacy on the Australian sporting landscape.

But the injury to captain Sam Kerr only adds another level of motivation for the Matildas, who were honest about the emotional impact of losing their talisman.

Steph Catley said: “I think it was probably one of the most heartbreaking moments of my career. Sam’s one of the best players in the world. She’s our spiritual leader and she means so much to this team.

“So to have her go down a day before a moment like this was pretty awful, but I think as a team it added something to us, added a fire and a little bit of extra fight. I think everyone looked up and said ‘Well I’ve got to step up now because we don’t have Sam.’”

Kerr missed out on the Matildas’ opening fixture due to a calf injury. (Photo by DAVID GRAY / AFP)
Kerr missed out on the Matildas’ opening fixture due to a calf injury. (Photo by DAVID GRAY / AFP)Source: AFP

Midfield maestro Katrina Gorry said: “It doesn’t matter who goes down, we know that everyone can step up and play an important role in our team. And I think, losing Sammy gives us an extra bit of fire to keep on winning, to keep on putting our best foot forward, and to keep on playing well for her.”

Ellie Carpenter said: “It was heartbreaking for Sam, and also for myself and the whole team. She was with us the whole game and we did this win for her. She’ll be back soon.”

The Matildas aren’t just playing for the record-breaking crowds in the stadium, for the nation as a whole and for the generations of young women they are inspiring. They’re doing it for their spiritual leader – and judging from her involvement in the pre-game huddle, her words of support from the sidelines or at halftime, Kerr will still play a key role regardless of whether she is on the pitch.

Despite being unable to play, Kerr still had an important role. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

KERR-SIZED HOLE IN ATTACK UNABLE TO BE FILLED

As soon as news filtered through Sam Kerr would be absent from the Matildas’ first two games with a calf injury, discussion immediately turned to how the team would fare in attack.

After all, Kerr is the talismanic striker who can score a goal out of nothing and is also the leader of the team on the field.

She had developed a lethal one-two punch alongside Caitlin Foord in a two-pronged attack up top, but with Kerr out, it meant Gustavsson had a big decision to face.

Would he opt for Foord as the lone striker and go with Cortnee Vine and Hayley Raso on the wings in front of a three-player midfield?

Or would Gustavsson opt for a direct Kerr replacement and stick with his trusted 4-4-2 formation?

The Swede would turn to the second approach, thrusting 20-year-old star Mary Fowler into the starting team in place of the injured skipper.

However, Fowler and Foord never quite looked in sync up top.

Foord relentlessly charged across the final third in chase of the ball and was full of energy, but she never quite got the clear cut chances she was after.

As for Fowler, she constantly had to drop deep just to pick up the ball and although she had some nice touches to sprint away from her marker, she struggled when it came to the final phase.

Fowler battled hard in attack for the Matildas. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Vine and Raso also battled to make their mark in the contest, although the latter won the penalty which ultimately led to the only goal of the game.

All up, the Matildas had 13 shots with just two on target: the penalty from Steph Catley and midfielder Katrina Gorry’s ambitious attempt from 30 yards out.

Despite the hosts’ blunt attack, Gustavsson was not terribly concerned but admitted he knows his side is certainly capable of much, much more going forward.

“I don’t want to overanalyse this in the sense that it was the absence of Sam, it was Ireland’s defending,” Gustavsson said in the post-match press conference.

“We know we can do better in attack. We showed it in parts of the attack when we had some good combination play down the right side, we isolated Vine one-on-one on the left side a couple of times.

“In the beginning of the second half, we played faster and had more movement off the ball.”

Gustavsson also pointed to a sense of first-game jitters in front of a record crowd as another reason behind the Matildas’ attacking issues, but feels that the team can kick on after the initial hurdle.

With Kerr set to miss the Nigeria fixture in Brisbane on July 27 before being reassessed for the Canada clash on July 31, it remains to be seen if Gustavsson places faith in Fowler once again.

Of course, replacing the youngster means it’s a second strike partner in as many games for Foord which could be detrimental, especially in tournament football.

Foord will no doubt reprise her role for the Matildas’ fixture against Nigeria. (Photo by Brendon Thorne/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

MATILDAS KEEP CALM AS KEY FLAW ADDRESSED

The biggest ever crowd for a women’s football game in Australia and the first ever World Cup in the Southern Hemisphere. Wednesday night was a milestone moment for the sport – and more pressure than ever on the Matildas to succeed on home soil.

The emotion was clear on the faces of the Australian players from the moment they walked out to the roar of over 75,000 fans.

Ellie Carpenter said: “Walking out, it’s more than a game – it was an occasion tonight. It was very emotional, seeing the anthem and then hearing 80,000 people sing it with you. Such a special moment, one that I’ll remember forever.”

Katrina Gorry said: “I think singing the national anthem, you know, with 75,000 people, it was pretty special for all of us. I think a few of us had tears in our eyes. And I think it just reflects on our career and how special this time is.”

And Steph Catley said: “We’ve never played to this type of occasion before. I think the build-up was incredible – we’ve never felt or seen anything like it.”

With five of the XI Australian players making their World Cup debuts, the Matildas could very easily have lost their heads – especially as the match wore on and the resilient Irish defence stifled the Australian attacks time and again.

Clare Hunt was one of five players making their World Cup debuts. (Photo by DAVID GRAY / AFP)Source: AFP

Indeed, remaining calm and composed in big occasions has proved a major problem for the team in the past – most particularly in the 2022 Asian Cup when the Matildas were favourites to go all the way but fell apart under pressure in an early knockout defeat to South Korea.

Steph Catley “I think we had a few nervy moments which is natural – this is the biggest moment of a lot of our careers. We expected some nervy sloppy moments and we had them but to get over the line, to keep a clean sheet, to fight the way we did, I think it sets us up really well for the tournament.”

Tony Gustavsson said in his post-match press conference: “We spent a lot of time throughout these two years talking about tournament football and game management and playing what the game needs at that moment.

“Yeah, it wasn’t the greatest game of football, right? It wasn’t the fantastic attacking team that we can see. But it’s a team that knows how to win a game and find a way to win a game and do what’s needed in that moment, and that’s what I’m most impressed with from the players tonight.”

“I’ve been around in tournament football long enough to know that sometimes it’s those games where you just need to grind through and find a way to win.

“That shows a maturity in this team. Being able to do it with five debutants that could have got really nervous and shaky and be frustrated that we didn’t play good enough and lose their heads.”

The Matildas made mistakes and were sloppy on the ball at times – but for a team full of World Cup debutants, and missing their captain and leader, it was remarkable how calm they remained under pressure.

Gustavsson was most impressed with how the Matildas found a way to grind out a win. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

FIERY BATTLE PROVES TILLIES ARE MORE THAN UP FOR THE FIGHT

Before a ball was even kicked, Matildas and Ireland fans were salivating at one battle set to play out in epic fashion on the field: Hayley Raso v Katie McCabe.

Raso, the diminutive right winger for the Matildas, is full of pace and has proved to be a constant thorn in the side of opposition left-backs over the years.

But McCabe, one of WSL heavyweights Arsenal’s finest, was more than up to the task.

Neither Raso or the Irish skipper took a backwards step throughout a feisty contest in which a total of 21 fouls were awarded, 12 against Australia and nine against Ireland.

The pair flung themselves into several crunching challenges, highlighting the lengths they would go to for their nations.

McCabe, operating as the left wing-back in a 3-4-3 formation for the World Cup debutants, kept Raso in check for her defensive duties as the Arsenal star looked to fly forward time and time again.

Both Raso and McCabe were momentarily injured in separate challenges with one another; Raso went down clutching her knee after a crunching tackle while McCabe hurt her wrist when she fall awkwardly after a clearance.

The duo’s intense battle set the standard for their teammates, with Ireland defender Niamh Fahey bumping into Matildas star Katrina Gorry in the second half.

When Ireland poured green shirts forward in attack, the Matildas’ backline also showed they were up for the fight and repelled their Group B rivals in the box time and time again.

The fiery nature of the opening game certainly showed this crop of Aussies are more than up for the fight, no matter the rival.

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