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

Despite missing nine months of football due to a knee injury, Kyah Simon has been selected in the Matildas’ final squad for the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup.

Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson has explained his decision making behind selecting Kyah Simon in his final 23 person squad for the upcoming FIFA Women’s World Cup, believing she can be a “game changer” come the latter stages of the tournament despite being sidelined for eight months.

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Simon tore her ACL playing for Tottenham Hotspur in the English Women’s League Cup against Reading back in early October.

The 32-year-old has been sidelined ever since, but has seemingly won the race against the clock to make the final cut in Gustavsson’s 23 person squad.

Simon edged out fellow attackers Larissa Crummer, Remy Siemsen and Emily Gielnik for one of the attacking spots on offer alongside Sam Kerr, Mary Fowler, Cortnee Vine, Hayley Raso and Caitilin Foord.

She’s now on track to go to her third Women’s World Cup, having represented the Matildas in 2011 and 2015, but missing out in 2019 due to injury.

Asked about Simon’s inclusion in the side, Gustavsson detailed the rationale behind her selection, saying she was selected as not only a “game changer” but based on the progress she would have made in her recovery come a month’s time.

“In the two-and-a-half years investment in the roster, we wanted to make sure that we build some depth in positions that this team have struggled with in the past,” Gustavsson said as he announced his 23-player squad on Monday.

“Especially in major tournaments when players have been maybe forced to be moved around in different positions, whether it’s Steph (Catley) as a centre-back or KK (Elise Kellond-Knight) as a left back.

“And if you look at the roster now, we have eight backs. Meaning we have two backs in each position. Left back, right back, and four centre backs. Natural ones, we have better depth there.

“We have eight midfielders, two in each spot, whether it’s wide to the left, wide to the right or or central and we have four forwards and that’s where Kyah comes into that selection of that last spot as an attacking player, as a game changer, she was competing with a lot of other forwards.”

Gustavsson continued: “We all know that we are heavy on a lot of attacking talents in this country. There’s a lot of attacking talent left out. Not just the one in in the extended roster, but also players outside of the extended roster that I wish there were room for more players to be honest so I can turn on the bench with 10 minutes to go and say, what tool do we need right now?

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“But that’s why Kyah is selected. Her and the (strength and conditioning) team have done a phenomenal job to bring her where she’s at right now, but she’s not selected based on where she’s at right now, eight months post op.

“She’s selected on where we think she can be in a month from now, when we’re going to those hopefully playoff rounds. (She is) a game changer that is good on big games never shies away, mentally strong, has a phenomenal connection with not just Sam (Kerr) but all the attack in place.”

Simon last featured for the Matildas in early March 2022 against New Zealand, playing in both of their victories against the Football Ferns.

Prior to then, she has been a regular in Gustavsson’s starting lineup at both the Asian Cup and Tokyo Olympics – starting in all 10 matches between the two tournaments.

Given her lack of match fitness, Gustavsson said he doesn’t think Simon will be a starter come the World Cup and even admitted that she could still be withdrawn from the final squad should she not be ready to feature by the time their World Cup opener against Ireland rolls around on July 20.

“There’s an understanding in the history there on the pitch that we’ve seen multiple times. The last time I saw it was in the Olympics, when she was behind a lot of our goal scoring, so she’s based on being a game changer,” he said.

“I’ve been very clear to Kyah and the (strength and conditioning) team. I don’t expect her to start the game, I don’t think she’s going to be ready for that, but being a game changer off the bench to change the game when needed, that’s why she selected.

“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.

“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.”