TAMEKA Yallop has gone about her business with efficiency and class at the Tokyo 2020 Women’s Football Tournament to date, excelling as one of the Matildas’ star performers in a variety of roles.
And now, as Tony Gustavsson faces a selection dilemma for Australia’s bronze medal match against United States on Thursday night, Yallop could prove the key for the Matildas boss as he looks to select his strongest starting XI in the absence of suspended superstar Ellie Carpenter.
Yallop has played alongside Emily van Egmond in the centre of the park for three of Australia’s Olympic fixtures, but with Chloe Logarzo’s inclusion from the start in Monday night’s Semi Final clash with Sweden, Yallop shifted to wing-back for the second time at Tokyo 2020 to offer support to Steph Catley placed on the left of a back three.
Her service in an unfamiliar position was phenomenal. In 69 minutes Yallop laid 31 passes at 83.9% accuracy, made three tackles, nine ball recoveries and engaged in nine duels, whilst creating one chance and firing one shot on goal in attack.
Yallop showed no signs of fatigue after playing 120 minutes in the Matildas’ 4-3 Quarter Final triumph over Great Britain on Friday night. If the Matildas weapon can back it up again against United States on Thursday night, Gustavsson can elect to keep her on the left flank, or return Yallop to central midfield depending on where he sees her making the biggest impact.
It’s this versatility that could open the door for Yallop’s fellow 2020/21 W-League stars to step forward and play important roles in other areas for the Matildas come Thursday night.
Traditional wing-backs Catley and Carpenter featured on either side of Alanna Kennedy in the back three against Sweden, but Carpenter’s red card in the dying embers of Australia’s Semi Final defeat will force Gustavsson to rejig his settled defence.
The Matildas boss has a ready-made defensive leader in Clare Polkinghorne to bring off his bench, who started all three group fixtures before making way for Kennedy in the knockout phase.
Gustavsson elected to bring Polkinghorne on against Sweden ahead of Aivi Luik – who has made three starts in central defence at Tokyo 2020 – to plug the gap in the back three, as Yallop came off and Catley moved into left wing-back. In Carpenter’s absence, Polkinghorne will be right in contention to slot into one of three central defensive roles in the bronze medal match.
Joining Polkinghorne in pressing Gustavsson for more minutes in the United States clash are fellow W-League stars of 2020/21 Emily Gielnik and Kyra Cooney-Cross, who have both received consistent minutes off the bench to date at Tokyo 2020.
Melbourne Victory starlet Cooney-Cross has featured in all five games to date, with her longest substitute cameo lasting 28 minutes. Her minimal workload has the Matildas teen raring for action should Gustavsson choose to unleash Cooney-Cross in a midfield role from the start, but after making five-consecutive substitute appearances after the hour mark it’s likely we’ll see more of the same when the bronze medal goes on the line on Thursday night.
Gielnik has accompanied Cooney-Cross in coming off the bench in all five of Australia’s Tokyo 2020 fixtures, but Gustavsson is yet to introduce the 2020/21 W-League Golden Boot winner before the 80-minute mark in any game so far.
With tiring legs and the searing Tokyo heat becoming more of a factor as the Women’s Football Tournament progresses into its final stage, watch on with intent as the fresh-legged Gielnik looks to expend her largely untapped energy against a wearying United States defence in the latter stages of Thursday night’s bronze medal match.