Matildas squad analysis: Fitness gambles, nine hopeful debutants & an A-Leagues star misses out

The Matildas World Cup squad is taking shape – but with the announcement of an extended 29-strong playing group comes a number of burning questions, writes Matt Comito.

It’s all starting to feel very real, isn’t it?

Matildas boss Tony Gustavsson has named his 29-player preliminary squad for the 2023 Women’s World Cup – a tournament that has for so long seemed way off in the distance, but is now just 31 days away.

That 29-strong squad will be whittled down to 23 by July. A send-off game against France is scheduled for July 14, and then attention will be focused solely on Australia’s tournament opener against Republic of Ireland in Sydney six days later.

Upon the announcement of his provisional squad, head coach Gustavsson noted it has taken far more than 23 players to get Australia to this point: on the brink of the biggest international tournament in the nation’s history, as the 10th-ranked country in the world and on a ripping run of results.

But it will take exactly 23 players to represent the nation at the World Cup. It’s a cut-off that will make dreams come true for some, and break the hearts of others. For those excluded from the 29-player squad, that heartbreak has already occurred.

These are the pressing talking points following Gustavsson’s preliminary squad confirmation.

REVEALED: The 29 players fighting to be included in the Matildas’ World Cup squad

Gambling on veterans on the mend

Of the 29 players selected in Gustavsson’s preliminary squad, six have played less than 650 minutes of football combined since the turn of the New Year.

It’s a worrying statistic that tells the story of a squad not without its injury and fitness concerns heading toward a major tournament.

When the 29-player squad was confirmed, two names stuck out among the rest: Kyah Simon and Chloe Logarzo. When fit, they’re two of the most important players in the Australia squad; veterans of 111 and 55 caps respectively, Simon and Logarzo have both battled immense setbacks and cruelly-timed injuries to earn their place among Gustavsson’s preliminary squad – but will they be fit come July 20, and what role can they both be expected to play?

Simon suffered an ACL tear on October while playing for English club Tottenham Hotspur. She missed the 2019 World Cup through injury, and four years later has been given every chance by Gustavsson to make sure she avoids the same fate. Logarzo meantime has played just 65 minutes in 2023. The midfielder recovered from an ACL tear of her own, returning to play with Western United in the Liberty A-League, but has since succumbed to a plantar fasciitis injury in her left foot. Logarzo missed the A-League Women Finals Series due to the injury.

Chloe Logarzo.

And then there’s veteran duo Alanna Kennedy and Tameka Yallop. Kennedy played just two games for Women’s Super League side Manchester City through a spate of injuries in 2022-23, while Yallop is on the mend from ankle surgery in December. Goalkeeper Teagan Micah played her first game in six months in early June due to severe concussion concerns. Striker Emily Gielnik was released by Aston Villa in May after playing just 176 minutes of football through the last WSL season.

These are players who, if selected by Gustavsson for the final 23, will head into the World Cup without a consistent body of work behind them. You can only wonder how much confidence a head coach can have in granting World Cup minutes to players with such a limited build-up in the crunch moments of a major tournament.

Feel-good factor for a swathe of selections

You just can’t help but smile at the thought of a number of Matildas taking their respective spots among matchday squads by the time the World Cup group stage rolls around.

They’re the players who have either navigated the tremendous personal toll of injuries, or made a late charge into tournament consideration.

Think Clare Hunt, the 24-year-old centre-back who thought she would be going to the World Cup as a fan before breaking through to make her debut in 2023, and is now shaping as one of the key cogs in the squad – if not the starting XI.

Think Simon, who could take to the field in Green and Gold at the World Cup less than nine months after an ACL tear, and Micah, who was hospitalised with a concussion in December and has faced a long road back to keep her World Cup ambition in sight.

Then there’s Remy Siemsen, Charlotte Grant, Alex Chidiac, Clare Wheeler, Cortnee Vine, Amy Sayer, Courtney Nevin and Kyra Cooney-Cross, who join Hunt in contending for a spot in the squad for their very first World Cup. Their World Cup inexperience is juxtaposed by Clare Polkinghorne and Lydia Williams, who both are looking to venture to the tournament for the fifth time.

These are special moments pursued by the individual which, come tournament time, could provide some of the great stories for fans to enjoy as they unfold.

Whyman edges Dumont to seal her spot

It was the conversation that ran and ran throughout the 2022-23 A-League Women season: whether Casey Dumont’s sparkling form in goal for Melbourne Victory should amount to a Matildas recall.

The Victory shot-stopper was immense for her club side throughout the campaign, with her form climaxing in one of the great Finals Series showings which included a string of clutch saves and penalty shootout heroics – including a spot kick of her own converted emphatically.

When Dumont was left out of the Matildas squad for April internationals, she expressed to DubZone that although it hurt not to get a look-in, she would continue to put her best form out on the park to contend in the future.

The Matildas goalkeeping union regularly consists of Teagan Micah, Lydia Williams and Mackenzie Arnold, and now, it appears as though Sydney FC’s Jada Whyman has emerged ahead of all other contenders as the next in line, earning a spot among the 29-player squad,

In late April, Dumont accepted an offer to switch codes and join AFLW side Hawthorn.

Casey Dumont (left).

No McNamara a surprise

Of the 24 players selected for Australia’s last international camp in England, only one player was excluded from Monday’s preliminary squad: Melbourne City star Holly McNamara.

The lightning winger is one of the most exciting players in Australia’s emerging crop of young talent; she burst onto the scene at the 2022 Women’s Asian Cup, making her debut at just 18 years of age, but suffered an ACL tear just one month later which stopped her breakout A-League Women season in its tracks.

McNamara returned to action with City in 2022-23, playing six times for City and a further five games in the NPL for APIA Leichhardt. It wasn’t enough to secure her spot in Gustavsson’s preliminary squad of 29.

It’s a genuine shame for the individual and for the fans of the national team who are eager to see the rapid winger in action. Gustavsson has enjoyed great success employing a 4-4-2 formation in recent camps, utilising a pair of flyers out wide to compliment a front two. Cortnee Vine and Hayley Raso have been popular selections in those wide areas – but McNamara seemed a perfect option for Gustavsson to have among his substitutes should that same formation be implemented at the World Cup.

The Matildas boss has opted for the likes of Gielnik, Larissa Crummer and Kyah Simon as players aside from Vine, Raso, Caitlin Foord, Mary Fowler and Tameka Yallop as depth in wide areas.

Holly McNamara.