With the AFC Women's Asian Cup kicking off in just over a week, let's breakdown Tony Gustavsson's squad selections, along with notable stars from other nations, who plan to cause havoc on the Commbank Matildas' quest for silverware
Goalkeeper spot up for grabs
Tony Gustavsson will lead into this Asian Cup campaign with the same goalkeeper selection headaches that troubled the Swede during the Tokyo Olympics. Three world-class options have been picked, with all three having been given opportunities to prove they deserve regular selection, in arguably the side's most important position.
Veteran of the Commonwealth Bank Matildas set-up, Arsenal FC's Lydia Williams is the only shot-stopper to have been involved in the side's previous Asian Cup triumph. Williams is familiar to a major tournament, with her 95-caps having overseen four Asian cup campaigns, three World Cup campaigns, and two Olympic campaigns.
Currently based in North London, the 33-year-old has been in a fight for game-time amongst a plethora of quality options at Arsenal. Yet, the West Australian has been a regular for all European competition matches, further proving the impact Williams possesses during important tournament matches.
Her greatest competition in goal for the opening match against Indonesia may well be Tokyo hero Teagan Micah. The 24-year-old's rise to prominence has been patient and deserved. Micah skipped the traditional youth talent programs, instead honing her abilities in Los Angeles, before moves to Norway and Sweden, where a first national team call-up was achieved whilst living in the small Norwegian village of Arna.
A champion in Sweden is a huge achievement, but after a heroic penalty save against Great Britain, Micah can boast about being a part of Australian Olympic folklore.
West Ham United's Mackenzie Arnold rounds out an impressive goalkeeping group, with the Queensland shot-stopper anointed by the BBC in 2021, as the English Women Super League's best goalkeeper, as determined by statistics.
Arnold has always been touted throughout her junior years as the goalkeeper with the largest raw talent, with this Asian Cup possibly being the opportunity for her to stamp an authority on Australia's number one jersey.
A major focus for the Commonwealth Bank Matildas leading into the AFC Asian Cup and FIFA Women's World Cup in just 18 months' time, was to increase the options of quality defenders. Our first matches of 2021 against Germany and The Netherlands saw a host of backline injuries and absentees, highlighting a need for coach Gustavsson to help blood through the nation's best young defensive talent before a period of consecutive major tournaments.
The 2022 Asian Cup in India may well prove to be a defining tournament for several youngsters in defence. Centre-backs Courtney Nevin and Charlotte Grant both made their national team debuts after impressive club moves. Nevin moved from her home In Western Sydney, to a leadership role at the current Australian champions Melbourne Victory. Grant also departed for higher quality competition, choosing instead to make the leap abroad to Swedish giants FC Rosengard.
Joining the two promising young defenders is a plethora of established stars and national team icons.
Highest appearance maker in Australian football history, along with the title of expert goal poacher, Clare Polkinghorne will play in her fifth Asian Cup. The 32-year-old continues to be an integral member of both Australia's backline, along with current side Vittsjo GIK.
Sitting behind Polkinghorne on appearances are English-based trio, West Ham United's Tameka Yallop, Manchester City's Alanna Kennedy and Arsenal's Steph Catley. The last six months have seen transfers to two of the WSL's strongest sides, with the extreme pressure of a title challenge, behind enormous supporter bases, readying the three for a tournament as important as the Asian Cup.
Olympique Lyonnais star Ellie Carpenter heads to India, very much now an experienced cog of Australia's backline. Gone are the days of the teenage prospect, who would enter an Asian Cup camp as the squad's youngest member, in India she will undoubtedly be the one to spearhead the green and gold.
The surprise inclusion was 36-year-old Aivi Luik. The selection was not a surprise in terms of her footballing quality, as the 35-time capped defender has already proven her worth in several major tournaments. The shock came from the fact that Tokyo and 2021 was supposed to be Luik's final campaign before retirement.
Passing of the guard in the middle
Gustavsson's selections in the midfield further represent the next generation of Commonwealth Bank Matildas, accompanied by the steadying presence of veteran and 112-times capped Emily Van Egmond.
The Tokyo Olympics in July 2021 saw a trial of fire for a host of talented teenage midfield debutants. For Montpellier star Mary Fowler, the tournament saw a long-awaited return to international football, facing some of the world's best sides. In the case of her teenage teammate Kyra Cooney-Cross, the challenge was multiplied by a change of position, with the 18-year-old tasked to play a more defensive role.
Many feared, that a teenage spine would struggle to handle the expectations of record audiences back home and a golden group of teammates. Yet both Fowler and Cooney-Cross were pivotal in Australia reaching the semi-finals for the first time, starting every match of the tournament. The Asian Cup will see the star teenage duo called upon again, along with recent debutant Clare Wheeler, whose immense work rate in just five appearances has impressed many within the game.
Forward line at its peak
The Commonwealth Bank Matildas frontline is one of the hardest in the world to break into. Despite this, Tony Gustavsson has squeezed every ounce of established Australian attacking talent, managing to fit a domestic club duo that just might shock the world with their goal-scoring abilities.
Fresh off nomination for the FIFA Best Women's Player Award, Australian captain Sam Kerr seems primed for international silverware once again. The Chelsea star has won almost all before her domestically, over the last twelve months. Yet, just like her national side since 2010, international success still proceeds the 28-year-old. If her side are to lift the Asian Cup in just over a month's time, Kerr will need to be on the shortlist for the tournament's top scorers.
The dilemma comes in deciding Kerr's strike partners for the tournament. Gustavsson has stated his wish to rotate his squad to keep every player healthy and fit, with every forward option at his disposal offering something very different.
The usual suspects up front are Arsenal's Caitlin Foord and Tottenham Hotspur's Kyah Simon who between them account for over 200 international appearances. The duo represents a cohesion within Australia's attack, having played together in several major tournaments.
After a transfer to title challengers Manchester City over the July break, Hayley Raso has grown an extra level in new surroundings, with the Queenslander's performances and goals perhaps warranting selection for Gustavsson's first eleven against Indonesia.
Another forward flourishing in England is Emily Gielnik, whose European journey may well be coming to an end, as she thoroughly settles into life at Aston Villa. Gielnik's height and natural strength is a strong point of difference in the Asian Cup competition, where opposition players are known for being technically gifted, but struggle physically.
The real live wires in Gustavsson's squad, however, are the inclusions from the A-League Women's competition. Leaders Sydney FC currently possess the deadliest front-two partnership that the league has ever seen, in the form of Remy Siemsen and recently introduced Courtnee Vine. The two have helped produce a goal once every forty minutes so far this season, combining with each other on seven occasions, in just four matches played together.
Alongside them is Melbourne City's queen of assists, teenager Holly McNamara, who has been the shock bolter for a national team call-up. The hope is that the City winger can transfer her raw talent and good form toward the side's Asian Cup campaign, with a debut more than likely as Gustavsson looks to rotate and experiment.
Group B: Players of Quality
Australia's group of Indonesia, Thailand, and The Philippines present a difficult challenge, with quality players, well-organised teams and a former Commonwealth Bank Matildas coach hoping to trip up the green and gold's quest for silverware.
Our first Asian Cup group match against Indonesia, sees our formidable front-line clash against the 18-year-old many claim to be South-East Asia's defender of the future. Centre-back Shalika Aurelia is already the star player for a nation that represents 273 million football fanatics. Having recently signed for Roma CF in Serie B, becoming the first Indonesian woman to sign a contract in Europe, Aurelia has already impressed within the Italian capital for her physical presence and ball-playing abilities.
The Philippines, coached by former Commonwealth Bank Matildas manager, Alen Stajcic, head into the tournament with one of the youngest squads, yet remain incredibly optimistic, due to a worldwide search for talented Filipino nationals.
Stajcic and his team have managed to identify eleven players of Filipino heritage within the American youth and college football system, handing out opportunities to represent the nation of their family's heritage.
Fifteen out of twenty-three selected players do possess less than ten appearances each, but The Philippines remain confident that this squad will help the country progress to the knockout stages for the first time.
Final group opponents Thailand are experienced at major tournaments, having previously won the Asian Cup, along with a number of FIFA Women's World Cup appearances. Thailand's strength is in their attacking combinations, with star forwards Silawan Intamee and Taneekarn Dangda entering their fourth major tournament, having played a combined 160 international matches alongside each other.
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