Squad reaction: What cost ‘one of the best finishers’ in the world, Australia’s $101m national victory

It was the unenviable task presented to 32 head coaches of nations from all around the world leading into the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup: selecting a squad of 23 from a deep pool of players desperate to represent their country.

It’s no different for Matildas boss Tony Gustavsson, who on Monday whittled his 29-player preliminary squad down to 23. Every single one of those 29 players would have been deserving recipients of a spot in the final 23 – but in the cutthroat environment of football, Monday’s squad announcement was where the road ended for six more players.

The Matildas’ 23-player squad is not without its fitness concerns – but on paper, it’s a formidable combination of players who are more than capable of going deep in the tournament. Among the 23 are some feel-good stories, while those who miss the final cut will be understandably heartbroken.

Joining KEEPUP’s Campbell Johnson for a special edition of The Dub at the Cup Podcast in the aftermath of Gustavsson’s squad reveal was former Matildas midfielder Amy Chapman, who ran her eye over the selected 23 to contextualise some of the big decisions at the selection table.

“My initial thought was that it was probably bang on what I thought it was going to be,” Chapman said.

“I think Tony has made some good decisions, some smart decisions, and was allowing players to have as much time as possible to either prove their fitness or recover from injury.

“There’s a few question marks over when or how much (some players) will be involved – but based on form and experience leading to such a big World Cup, he’s pretty much done as predicted.”

It’s the end of the road for Chloe Logarzo, who fought tooth and nail to recover from an anterior cruciate ligament tear, only for a plantar fasciitis injury in her left foot to rule her out in the crucial months leading up to World Cup selection.

Logarzo tore the ACL in her right knee in September of 2021 while playing for the Matildas. It was a long road back to fitness for the central midfielder, who elected to sign with expansion Liberty A-League club Western United to relaunch her bid for a place in the World Cup squad.

Logarzo’s return to action was patiently managed by both player and club, but when she bagged a stunning brace against Melbourne City in December, it appeared she was right on track.

But one month later, the midfielder succumbed to the plantar fasciitis injury in her left foot. She described it as an overuse injury at the time.

Logarzo told KEEPUP in April: “It’s probably because I did my right knee, and the excessive overuse of my left foot, or just compensating through parts of my rehab has just led to that.”

Logarzo returned to Western in March after being released by National Women’s Soccer League club Kansas City, but did not feature for the club through their subsequent run to the A-League Women Grand Final.

Logarzo was selected in the 29-player preliminary Matildas squad, but Gustavsson could not find room for the veteran midfielder in an engine room boasting the talent of Kyra Cooney-Cross, Alex Chidiac, Katrina Gorry, Emily van Egmond, Clare Wheeler and Tameka Yallop.

Kyah Simon was the other major doubt as Gustavsson selected his final 23. Like Logarzo, the forward has been busy rehabilitating from an ACL injury this year – and without playing a single minute since succumbing to the injury in October, 2022, finds a spot among the 23 ahead of the World Cup.

“I’m perhaps the perfect person to talk about this,” Chapman said, when assessing Simon’s inclusion in the 23-player squad.

“I’ve had three ACL (injuries) myself – and my first one, I actually came back six months post-ACL surgery and went to the U20 World Cup in Russia.

“I know exactly what it feels like to rush and come back. With Kyah right now at eight months post-operation, she won’t have that match fitness and match sharpness – but I think Kyah’s strength is her flair. It’s how clever she is on the ball. She’s very smart, she (has) very quick feet to take a strike and take those moments.

“Her strength is not playing 90 minutes and it never has been for the Matildas.

“Being an impact player, being a super sub is actually a great option for her – and I think they’ll give her up until the last 24 hours to see how she’s looking, but I can completely understand why (Gustavsson) has picked her.”

This is where Chapman believes the difference lies in Simon’s selection and Logarzo’s omission: “(Logarzo) has had a terrible injury run, as has Kyah, who has had two shoulder reconstructions, two ACL’s, broken legs, you name it. She’s done a lot to get there and she deserves to be there,” Chapman said.

“For someone like Chloe Logarzo who hasn’t played many minutes, her biggest asset to the game is her fitness and work rate – and you cannot bring that without playing regular minutes.”

Simon brings experienced accrued across 111 international caps and two World Cups to the squad. Shortly after revealing his 23-player squad, Gustavsson was asked by reporters about Simon’s fitness; he confirmed he did not expect her to play a starting role in the group stage, but could be a “game changer” late in games and heading toward the knockout phase.

He also mentioned the possibility that Simon could be replaced up until 24 hours before the opening game of the tournament.

“The other thing, I want to be clear on here as well… but you can always replace a player up until 24 hours before the opening game and if that happens, that Kyah is not ready by that time, then obviously we can do a replacement change,” he said.

“That’s why I’ve also been very clear to all the players on the extended roster (to) stay fit, stay informed, stay focused because you never know what can happen.”

Teagan Micah made a timely return to action after a six-month spell dealing with the repercussions of a serious concussion sparked by a horror collision with Benfica striker Cloé Lacasse while playing for FC Rosengård in a UEFA Women’s Champions League tie in December.

It took until June for Micah to make her club comeback. One month later, she’s one of three goalkeepers selected to represent Australia at the World Cup.

At the time of her first appearance back on the pitch, she took to Instagram to document just how difficult it was to suffer such a serious setback eight months out from the World Cup:

There was disappointment for Emily Gielnik and Larissa Crummer on selection day, as two of the six players who did not make the cut from the 29-player preliminary squad. Gielnik’s season came to an end in March due to an ankle injury; her minutes in green and gold were drying up under Gustavsson and the injury woes may have put an end to her hopes of making the final 23.

“Timing is big,” Chapman said. “When (Gielnik is) in form she’s arguably scored some of the best goals the Matildas have ever seen. She’s arguably one of the best finishers in the women’s game full stop – but she hasn’t been scoring for club or country recently.

“She’s not been able to put on back-to-back performances and as a striker, it’s pretty cutthroat. Are you scoring, are you playing minutes, are you assisting?

“If not, we’ll pick someone that is – and there is ample amount of talent in that attacking front for the Matildas.”

Crummer, meanwhile, had been used in many positions by Gustavsson, predominantly in the final third where she is most comfortable, but even at times as a right-back. Simon’s inclusion undoubtedly moved Crummer back down the pecking order of players bringing strength in depth in wide areas. But as Gustavsson mentioned on Monday afternoon, a call could be made on Simon’s fitness in the days leading up to the World Cup – and in such a moment, Gielnik or Crummer could find themselves making a late run at a spot in the squad.

READ: Gustavsson leaves door open for last minute World Cup squad twist after ‘game changer’ gamble

Together Crummer, Gielnik and Logarzo are the three veteran Matildas who did not make the final squad. They were joined by a trio of up and comers in Remy Siemsen, Amy Sayer and Jada Whyman in making it to the 29-player preliminary squad, but no further.

With an average age of 22.3, Siemsen, Sayer and Whyman represent the future cohort of the Matildas. They are three of 54 different players called into Matildas squads throughout Gustavsson’s tenure, and will undoubtedly play a major role in the future of the national team. But for now, it’s their turn to experience the heartache of World Cup squad omission that will hopefully push them onward in search of opportunities in the future.

Amy Sayer.

And then there’s Aivi Luik.

The 38-year-old is the eldest member of the Matildas squad. She’s 18 years older than Mary Fowler, the youngest player in the squad.

Luik earns a spot thanks to her versatility and experience. Capable of playing in the middle of the park, central defence or at full-back, Luik is a fix-all solution for Gustavsson to have up his sleeve. Off the pitch, Luik will play such a crucial role in developing a positive culture while helping the younger members of the squad to remain calm in the big moments. Her presence will be felt in the day-to-day life of a squad at World Cup, where she can make an impact as a standard-setter among a group featuring seven World Cup debutants.

Aivi Luik.

But the biggest winner on squad selection day was Australia as a nation.

On Monday, our women’s national team finally had a place to call home. The squad announcement took place soon after the official opening of The Home of the Matildas at La Trobe University in Melbourne; its existence makes you think long and hard about exactly how far this game, and women’s football, has come in Australia. From the early years of players washing their own kits and paying their own way to represent the green and gold, the Matildas now have a state-of-the-art facility to call their own.

The project was funded as part of a $101 million investment from the Labour Government. The specific investment in The Home of the Matildas is the largest amount contributed by any level of government for a football project in Australia. This is for a team that for so long lived on the periphery of Australian sport – but no longer.

With that in mind, we are all winners.