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Matildas squad breakdown, analysis, Australia predicted starting line-up, Sam Kerr, Tony Gustavsson, when is the first match vs Ireland

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The 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup has finally arrived.

For the Matildas and the 31 other teams competing, it is the culmination of a four-year journey filled with plenty of trials and tribulations.

Tony Gustavsson’s side isn’t the favourite to win the World Cup, but with a nation behind them on home soil, they are expected to go deep into the tournament.

This Australian squad has undergone a major revamp from its last appearance at a World Cup when they exited in the Round of 16 in 2019.

One of the key issues four years ago was the glaring lack of depth, especially in the backline.

Thankfully, Gustavsson has rectified that issue not just on the defensive front but all over the park, with seven players set to make their World Cup debuts.

Talismanic skipper Sam Kerr will lead the line with the weight of a nation on her shoulders, but who else could play a starring role alongside her?

Foxsports.com.au breaks down every member of the 23-player Matildas World Cup squad, forecasts what role they will have throughout the tournament and predicts the starting line-up for the opener against Ireland on July 20!

WOMEN’S WORLD CUP PREVIEW PODCASTS – LISTEN NOW!

PART ONE: Preview of EVERY group and which players could catch your eye

PART TWO: Three burning Matildas questions and why their Group B rivals are a threat

Matildas presented with World Cup jersey | 01:58

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GOALKEEPERS

Oddly enough, the goalkeeper position has long been one with strong stocks over the years for both the Socceroos and Matildas.

Although the men have often had a clear No.1 goalkeeper, the Matildas have often been blessed with riches between the sticks.

That is no more evident than the trio of goalkeepers in the Matildas squad for the World Cup.

Mackenzie Arnold, Teagan Micah and Lydia Williams have all spent time as Gustavsson’s top option in goals throughout his tenure.

It has fluctuated over the four-year journey since the 2019 World Cup, but it appears we now have a clear front-runner for the role.

Regardless, the Matildas would be in safe hands no matter who ends up as the final line of defence.

Mackenzie Arnold (West Ham)

35 caps

Making her third Women’s World Cup squad (but having not yet featured on the pitch), Arnold is one of many veteran Matildas who have travelled around the world to take their game to the next level. From her hometown club Brisbane Roar to Norway, the US, and now England with West Ham, Arnold is in the peak of her powers and her exceptional club form has been repeated in the green and gold. In February, she was Player of the Tournament in the Cup of Nations after some commanding performances between the sticks.

Teagan Micah (FC Rosengard)

14 caps

The 25-year-old is widely viewed as the ‘next generation’ keeper to inherit the No.1 jersey from the veterans in Arnold and Williams, and her standout performances at the Tokyo Olympics saw her surge into genuine contention for the starting role.

But Micah endured a torrid six months after suffering a major concussion in a Champions League match in early December.

She could hardly leave bed for two months and continued to experience ongoing symptoms like severe headaches, nausea and dizziness for months afterwards. Her battle with concussion and the subsequent toll it took on her mental wellbeing was largely hidden from the public, with her club and the Matildas only stating she was injured. But just last month she returned to club action and will run out for the Aussies at her second World Cup.

Teagan Micah is back in action after dealing with the effects of a major concussion. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
Teagan Micah is back in action after dealing with the effects of a major concussion. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Lydia Williams (Brighton)

102 caps

Williams has made her fifth World Cup squad, the most for any Australian player (alongside a fellow Matilda, but more on the later).

The veteran goalkeeper made her debut in 2005 and has remained a constant presence for the Tillies ever since.

Although she was seen as the No. 1 option between the sticks in recent years, Williams has since been struggling for game time for her country with the recent rise of Micah and Arnold.

She’s also battled for minutes at club level too with stints at Arsenal and Paris Saint-Germain largely spent on the bench, before a switch to Brighton helped her to some much-needed action on the park.

Whether Williams can nudge ahead of Arnold and Micah in the pecking order remains to be seen, but her experience and calming presence will prove critical for the Tillies.

DEFENDERS

At the 2019 World Cup, the Matildas’ worrying lack of depth in defence was brutally exposed.

Fast forward to today and one could argue it’s our deepest area on the park.

There’s strong competition for places with plenty of young faces breaking into the Matildas squad in recent years, but there’s also the reliable veteran faces of Steph Catley, Alanna Kennedy and Clare Polkinghorne to name three.

Although Gustavsson is spoilt for choice in several areas across the back, he must make a number of harsh calls going into the World Cup opener against Ireland.

Ellie Carpenter (Lyon)

62 caps

Carpenter burst onto the international scene as a fresh-faced 15-year-old for the Matildas in an Olympic qualifier against Vietnam and has never looked back since.

The Cowra native, who plays as a right-back, is undeniably coach Gustavsson’s first choice in the position as she provides endless amounts of energy up and down the flank.

There were fears she could have missed a home World Cup when she ruptured her ACL during Lyon’s UWCL victory over Barcelona last year, but returned to action in February and is chomping at the bit.

Her overlapping runs and bursts of pace on the right are critical to how Gustavsson wants the Matildas to play, so expect to see Carpenter joining in with plenty of attacks only to see her racing back and putting in a crunching tackle.

Carpenter has battled her way back from a torn ACL. (Photo by Martin KEEP / AFP)Source: AFP

Steph Catley (Arsenal)

110 caps

From featuring on the cover of FIFA16 to proving her credentials overseas, vice-captain Catley is one of the most recognisable faces in the Matildas line-up.

The 29-year-old is able to play anywhere across the back four, but is predominantly used as a left back or a left centre back.

The Arsenal star also has a wicked delivery from set pieces which, in tournament football, can be the difference between winning and losing, such are the fine margins.

Over the years Catley has been beset by a number of injuries and struck fear into the hearts of Matildas supporters when she was subbed on and then subbed off during Arsenal’s win over Leicester City in May.

She also missed the Matildas’ friendlies against Scotland and England in early April with a foot injury.

However, Catley was at her dependable best against France and will be a lock for the Ireland clash.

Charlotte Grant (Vittsjo GIK)

18 caps

Grant has enjoyed a rapid rise to prominence for the Matildas ever since she made her international debut against Ireland in September 2021.

The young fullback, who specialises on the right flank, will enjoy her maiden World Cup appearance which is sure to be one of many throughout her budding career.

The South Australian began her career with Adelaide United before moving to Swedish outfit FC Rosengard and then Vittsjo GIK last year, where she counts fellow Matildas Clare Polkinghorne and Katrina Gorry as teammates.

Although she has been stuck behind Carpenter in the pecking order, her injury opened the door for Grant to earn a number of starting berths against the likes of Sweden, Spain and England.

Her first goal at international level and a player of the match award against the Lionesses proves Grant can more than hold her own and will push Carpenter all the way for the starting role.

Clare Hunt (Western Sydney Wanderers)

6 caps

With a dad who played one first grade match for the Canberra Raiders and a brother, Henry, who plays for the Adelaide Strikers in the BBL, Clare Hunt comes from a strong sporting background.

She made her debut against the Czech Republic during the Cup of Nations in February earlier this year and coach Gustavsson remarked how absurdly comfortable she seemed on the park for a debutant.

It has not been a straightforward journey to this point given she underwent seven different operations from 2018 to 2022 for a variety of injuries.

Hunt made the PFA A-League Women’s team of the season thanks to an outstanding campaign for the Wanderers and impressed once again against France after a shaky moment early on.

She’s made it extremely difficult for Gustavsson to drop her from the starting line-up, so expect Hunt to start the World Cup opener.

Clare Hunt has displayed a maturity beyond her six Matildas caps. (Photo by Martin KEEP / AFP)Source: AFP

Alanna Kennedy (Manchester City)

109 caps

Kennedy has been a mainstay in the in the Matildas squad ever since she made her debut in June 2012 against New Zealand at age 17.

This World Cup will be the centre back’s third and her eighth major tournament for the national team.

Although she may have over 100 appearances for the Matildas under her belt, Kennedy has battled for game time at club level in recent seasons with Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City.

This past season the 28-year-old dealt with a series of frustrating injuries that kept her to only four games across all competitions for City and hasn’t played since March.

Yet she slotted in at the back alongside Hunt in the France friendly and looked as if she’d missed no time at all, earning her a highly likely starting berth against Ireland.

Aivi Luik (BK Hacken)

49 caps

What a remarkable journey for Aivi Luik.

After retiring from international duty in August 2021, the 38-year-old was convinced to backflip on the decision by Gustavsson and is now headed to her second World Cup.

Luik’s versatility will be crucial to the Matildas, as she can play at left back, centre back and even in centre midfield very comfortably.

She may not have as many caps as one might expect, but having played in 10 countries throughout her career, Luik has plenty of experience in the bank that the youngsters of the squad can call on.

It’s highly unlikely Luik will be a starter, but she could certainly feature at some stage should Gustavsson need someone to help see out a game in the latter stages.

Courtney Nevin (Leicester City)

23 caps

Nevin is at her first World Cup having been handed her debut by Gustavsson as an 18-year-old against Denmark in 2021 before making the Tokyo Olympics squad.

The young full back then earned a move to Swedish side Hammarby IF in 2022 but came into her own during a loan spell at WSL side Leicester City.

Thanks to three assists and a clean sheet, Nevin was nominated for the WSL Player of the Month award in April as she played a key role in keeping the Foxes safe from relegation.

She’s since signed a permanent deal with Leicester and will no doubt come on in leaps and bounds over the years.

Nevin is unlikely to be a first choice option at fullback for the World Cup, but her quality will be critical to the Matildas’ depth should something happen to Carpenter or Catley.

Courtney Nevin (right) has proven to be a dependable option at left or right back when needed. (Photo by William WEST / AFP)Source: AFP

Clare Polkinghorne (Vittsjo GIK)

157 caps

There’s a good reason as to why Sam Kerr described Clare Polkinghorne as the “mum” of the team at the press conference for the squad announcement.

Polkinghorne is headed to her fifth World Cup and holds the record for most caps in Matildas history with a staggering 156 to her name across a 17-year span with the national team.

Evidently the most experienced operator in the team, Polkinghorne is a cool head at centre back and a guaranteed starter provided she is 100 per cent fit, although she missed time in April for Swedish club Vittsjo GIK with a lower-leg injury.

The only worrying aspect of Polkinghorne’s inclusion is her lack of pace which can get exposed in Gustavsson’s high-press style of play, but her tactical nous should be more than enough to not get into such situations often.

She was left out of the starting line-up for the France clash but came on in the second half and did her job to keep a clean sheet.

A fully-fit Polkinghorne starts, but Hunt and Kennedy showed the team is still strong at the back without the veteran’s presence.

MIDFIELDERS

There’s a youthful exuberance about the midfield options but, like in defence, Gustavsson has named a number of experienced stars.

In Gustavsson’s current system, there’s just two central midfield positions up for grabs and we already have a good idea as to who will start in them for the World Cup.

However, the France friendly proved a number of these players can slot seamlessly anywhere else on the park and make an impact.

They also present as serious impact options off the bench and can flip a game on its head, an invaluable quality in tournament football.

Alex Chidiac (Racing Louisville)

27 caps

Chidiac has developed a cult following for her bubbly personality and humorous nature, but don’t think for a second she doesn’t flip the switch once it comes time to take the park.

The silky midfielder’s six goals in 13 games while on loan at Melbourne Victory in the 2022/23 A-League Women’s season earned her the Julie Dolan Medal, the league’s most prestigious honour.

She’s since returned to Racing Louisville in the NWSL and continues to impress.

The 24-year-old is not a guaranteed starter and will likely be used by Gustavsson as a fresh injection of guile, creativity and energy off the bench.

Kyra Cooney-Cross (Hammarby IF)

28 caps

Cooney-Cross looms as one of the most important players at the World Cup for the Matildas.

Having made her A-League Women’s debut for Melbourne Victory at age 15, Cooney-Cross has continued to impress with each passing year.

She’s also become a massive hit with fans of her Swedish club Hammarby after playing a starring role en route to the side winning the Swedish Cup and thus ending a 28-year trophy drought.

Cooney-Cross has developed a formidable partnership with Katrina Gorry in the heart of the Matildas midfield and looks set to reprise that role at what will be her first World Cup.

Cooney-Cross has made the centre midfield position her own. (Photo by Martin KEEP / AFP)Source: AFP

Katrina Gorry (Vittsjo GIK)

94 caps

Gorry has been a mainstay of the Matildas over the course of 11 years and has become a vital player in Gustavsson’s high-octane style of play.

The pint-sized midfielder, affectionately known as ‘Mini’, is back in the Tillies set-up after giving birth to her daughter Harper.

She wasted no time in finding her feet on the park when she was named Player of the Match in her comeback game against New Zealand where the Matildas came from behind to win.

Gorry is expected to line up alongside Cooney-Cross in the midfield with the duo having played alongside one another in Australia’s five games played in 2023.

Emily van Egmond (San Diego Wave)

128 caps

It’s hard to picture the Matildas in the modern era without Van Egmond running around in the No. 10 jersey.

She made her debut aged 16 in 2010 and scored her first Matildas goal the following year at the Women’s World Cup against Equatorial Guinea.

Since her debut in 2010, Van Egmond has failed to play 10 games or more in a calendar year just three times, highlighting her longevity and importance to the side.

However, the 29-year-old has been battling form and fitness issues in recent times and only recently returned to action for NWSL side San Diego Wave after a back injury.

If Gustavsson opts for a two-player central midfield, which looks likely, Van Egmond may be squeezed out of the starting line-up.

Van Egmond has been a mainstay in the Matildas team since debuting in 2010. Photo by Michael Klein.Source: News Corp Australia

Clare Wheeler (Everton)

13 caps

Another one of the several World Cup debutants in the Matildas’ ranks.

Wheeler logged plenty of minutes for Everton in the WSL this season so she will not be short of match fitness.

However, she isn’t exactly a guarantee to start in the midfield, especially if Gustavsson is to go with two centre mids instead of two holding midfielders and a No. 10.

She is a defensive midfielder by nature and relishes doing the dirty work of breaking up opposition attacks and, if games become stretched, Wheeler could be a vitally important option off the bench.

Tameka Yallop (SK Brann)

113 caps

This is Yallop’s fourth World Cup having made her tournament debut in 2011.

The 32-year-old is one of the most versatile members of this Matildas squad, an invaluable quality given how quickly a game can turn.

Yallop underwent ankle surgery late last year but returned to the Matildas fold for the 2023 Cup of Nations.

Yet she hurt her ankle again during Australia’s thrilling win over England, which leaves her under somewhat of an injury cloud going into the tournament.

An injury to her left knee against France will have everyone sweating nervously as they await the verdict of how severe it is.

She’s likely to feature in cameos off the bench throughout the World Cup.

FORWARDS

This is where the magic happens and the area with the most recognisable names.

Sam Kerr, our superstar striker, is the first name on the team sheet and will lead the Matildas’ attacking line for the tournament.

Gustavsson has toyed with different formations in the final third but looks to have settled on having two up top, one of which is Kerr.

But the versatility of all the forward options gives the Swede plenty of choices in which to slightly tweak things during a game if need be.

There’s also a clear theme when it comes to the key attributes of the wingers selected and it’s one that aligns perfectly with how Gustavsson wants his side to play.

Caitlin Foord (Arsenal)

109 caps

Although Sam Kerr may be the headline act in the Matildas’ attack, Caitlin Foord has become a superstar in her own right at the top end of the field.

Her World Cup debut in 2011 earned her the Best Young Player of the Tournament award and Foord has never looked back since, scoring 29 goals in her 108 games since.

But a run of 12 goals in her last 30 appearances proves she’s in outstanding goalscoring form for the Matildas in recent times.

Not only that, she’s been a phenom for Arsenal in the WSL this season.

Gustavsson has recently deployed Foord in a two-striker formation alongside Kerr, but don’t be surprised to see her out on the wing either.

Regardless, Foord is a nailed-on starter for the World Cup.

Foord has linked up well when paired with Kerr in a front two. (Photo by Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Mary Fowler (Manchester City)

37 caps

At just 16 years of age, Mary Fowler was a member of the 2019 World Cup squad but didn’t see any game time.

Four years on, she’s grown to be an integral part of this Matildas line-up under Gustavsson and will undoubtedly see more minutes.

An attacking midfielder who can also play along the front line with ease, Fowler can pick out a pass, drift past a player as if they’re a training cone or fire in a strike from range.

Her arsenal of weapons is sure to be critical to the Matildas’ hopes, although she fractured her back while playing for club side Manchester City in April and has been unable to play since.

Came on at half time against France and was quiet in the early stages, but once she moved into a more central role she thrived and scored the only goal.

More than good enough to start, but will likely have an impact role off the bench going into the World Cup opener against Ireland.

Sam Kerr (Chelsea)

121 caps

What more is there to say about Sam Kerr?

Captain fantastic. Australia’s record goal scorer. The first Australian to score a hat-trick at a World Cup.

Kerr scores goals for club and country like there’s no tomorrow and has been unlucky not to pick up the Ballon d’Or Feminin in recent years.

The Chelsea sharpshooter has also picked up two Golden Boots, four league titles and three Women’s FA Cup trophies along the way since moving to London from the Chicago Red Stars.

She’s the first name on the team sheet and her goals will be critical to the Matildas’ success.

As for the danger she poses to the opposition, Kerr put it best when she said rival defenders may pocket her for 89 minutes, she just needs that one chance to seal the deal.

Enough said.

Hayley Raso (Real Madrid)

71 caps

The rapid Hayley Raso is one of the most important outlets for the Matildas.

Her lightning-quick pace helps her leave opposition defenders in a spin and has a keen eye for goal too, showcasing that with a double in Australia’s Cup of Nations win over the Czech Republic earlier this year.

Raso’s impressive form for Manchester City this season also earned her a move to Spanish giants Real Madrid and will look to carry the momentum into the World Cup where she aims to score her first goal in the tournament.

Instantly recognisable with her trademark bow, Raso’s attacking intent will be key and is a guaranteed starter.

Raso’s rapid pace gives defenders nightmares. (Photo by Mackenzie Sweetnam/Getty Images)Source: Getty Images

Kyah Simon (unattached)

111 caps

One of Australia’s great comeback stories, Simon has battled injuries time and again in her career, from a broken leg aged 15 to a syndemosmis injury in 2019 that ruled her out of the 2019 World Cup.

Always, the resilient star has fought back – making her debut aged 16 in 2007, or fighting back from that 2019 injury to play a key role in the Matildas’ best-ever Olympics result in Tokyo 2021.

In September last year, that injury curse struck again when playing for Tottenham, tearing her ACL, MCL and meniscus. Having already underwent multiple knee reconstructions in the past, as well as hefty shoulder and ankle surgeries, another comeback seemed out of reach.

But she worked tirelessly on physio and rehabilitation and is back in the squad for a third World Cup (after 2011, ‘15).

She said: “When I did my injury, straight away, my first thought was the World Cup. That was my sole motivation and focus every day … I’ve probably worked the hardest that I ever have in my career.”

Simon has a knack of goals in big games – the winning penalty at the 2010 Asian Cup, two goals against Norway at the 2011 World Cup to reach the knockouts, or her goal against Brazil in the 2015 tournament to hand Australia a first-ever knockout win.

The Anaiwan and Biripi woman is also the first Indigenous player to score at a World Cup and the first to reach 100 caps for the Matildas.

Sam Kerr said: “She’s kind of an X factor and she has been her whole career.”

Cortnee Vine (Sydney FC)

17 caps

One of just two A-League Women’s players in the Matildas World Cup squad, Cortnee Vine has more than earned her place.

Her remarkable speed is a major asset whether she starts or comes on as an impact substitution, especially against tired defenders.

Vine made her debut in January last year and has since made 16 caps, highlighting how impressed Gustavsson has been with the Sydney FC flyer.

Was handed a starting berth against France in a big show of faith from Gustavsson and although she couldn’t find her shooting boots, her pace was pivotal to the Matildas’ attacking play.

FOX SPORTS’ PREDICTED MATILDAS STARTING XI

Formation: 4-4-2

Mackenzie Arnold (gk); Ellie Carpenter, Clare Hunt, Alanna Kennedy, Steph Catley; Hayley Raso, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Katrina Gorry, Cortnee Vine; Caitlin Foord, Sam Kerr (c)

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