Melbourne City star Holly McNamara has earned a Matildas recall for a pair of international friendlies against Canada next month and she is not the only Liberty A-League player in the squad.
McNamara burst on to the scene at the 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup before rupturing her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) soon after, however, the three-time Australia international is back in the squad thanks to her domestic form.
The 20-year-old scored her first A-Leagues hat-trick in Round 4 and she has four goals to her name this season as Tony Gustavsson’s Matildas prepare for friendlies against Canada on December 2 and December 6 (AEDT) in North America.
There are three other Liberty A-League stars in the 23-player squad – Brisbane Roar’s Tameka Yallop, Melbourne Victory goalkeeper Lydia Williams and Emily Van Egmond, who has just returned to Newcastle Jets on a four-game guest stint.
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Unveiling his squad for two friendly matches with Canada next month, his last chance to experiment before February’s Olympic Games play-offs against Uzbekistan, Gustavsson said he will instruct his team to go “all in” on a possession-based style he insisted is necessary for the Matildas to break their duck at global tournaments.
Having reverted to a fast-breaking, transitional game at the FIFA Women’s World Cup which carried Australia to fourth place, Gustavsson believes a new level of sophistication is required if the Matildas are to reach a higher level at future tournaments.
Against Canada – who Australia beat comprehensively in the group stage at the World Cup – Gustavsson freely admitted there would be “exciting times but also challenging times” as they seek to play around a team renowned for its aggressive pressing.
Gustavsson recalled MacNamara to his squad after her blistering start to the A-League Women’s season, and gave Brighton and Hove Albion’s Charlie Rule a full place after she joined the Olympic qualifiers in October as a train-on player.
Essentially the core of the squad is unchanged, but the brief from their coach will be very different to the World Cup blueprint.
“You all know that we had one of our best games against Canada in the World Cup but we beat them in a different way than we’re going to try to play (next month),” he said.
“Now, we’re in a different phase. Now we’re in the preparation phase where we’re going to take this team to the next level in terms of being able to do more with the ball, which means we’re going to take a lot of risks.
“We might get a knock, you know, we might get dispossessed in our own half. We play against one of the best pressing teams in the world with Canada that loves to press and they’re really, really good on the break.
“But we said we need to go all in on this one now and we’re not going to shy away from that process. We still want to have the edge as a team because we’re really good at breaking lines.
“But we want to do it more with combination play than a transition game. So yes, more with the ball but still breaking lines when we can. Exciting times, but some challenging times as well.”
Gustavsson was effusive about the return of McNamara, who burst on to the international scene at the AFC Women’s Asian Cup at the start of last year but suffered a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) soon after.
Though she was briefly recalled to the Matildas in March, Gustavsson said that in hindsight that was too early – even though he was considering taking her to the World Cup.
But with four goals in four games to start the Liberty A-League season, the City winger has roared back into contention.
“Her profile as a player had caught our attention (before the Asian Cup) and we felt then that she had something very, very interesting with her 1v1 skills, her change of tempo, her eye for goal and assists,” said Gustavsson.
“Her stats were off the charts back then, compared to some other players in the league and then she came into our environment and she really thrived.
“Then unfortunately, the ACL injury came but she and Melbourne (City) have done a phenomenal job getting her back to where she is now.
“Now she has once again proved now in the A-League, the stats are once against off the charts when it comes to goal scoring, but also creating goal-scoring chances, when it comes to line breaking actions, when it comes to 1v1, when it comes to pressing action.
“She really fits the bill of how I want to play and she can play in all four attacking spots for us. She can play a seven and 11, she can play a nine, she can play a linking No 10. She’s proven that she’s multifunctional in that sense as well.
“So I’m really, really happy to bring her back into our environment.
“(The squad has) a mix of continuity in an Olympic year, post the World Cup, but also spiced with some young, exciting players that we believe can fit in the way we want to play now.”
Canada v Australia
Date: Friday, 1 December 2023 (local) / Saturday, 2 December (AEDT)
Kick-off: 7.30pm PST (local) / 2.30pm (AEDT)
Venue: Starlight Stadium, Langford, BC
Broadcast: Network 10 and Paramount+
Canada v Australia
Date: Tuesday, 5 December 2023 (local) / Wednesday, 6 December (AEDT)
Kick-off: 7.00pm PST (local) / 2.00pm (AEDT)
Venue: BC Place, Vancouver, BC
Broadcast: Network 10 and Paramount+