Sam Kerr’s fitness to play the Matildas’ glamour fixture against England has been left shrouded in mystery after coach Tony Gustavsson refused to say whether his star striker is carrying an injury.
After Australia’s 1-0 loss to Scotland at AFC Wimbledon’s Plough Lane home on Friday, Gustavsson sounded uncomfortable when asked whether Kerr was actually injured.
“I can’t comment on that, so I’ll keep that close to my chest as of now – yeah, I’ll pass on that one,” said the Swede, who will need all of Kerr’s gifts in front of goal to prevent his team’s final overseas warm-ups before July’s World Cup ending in defeats.
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Kerr had stressed on Thursday how eager she was to play against England for the first time in her career, and Gustavsson was not ruling out the prospect that she could get the chance to add to her 62 international goals in Tuesday’s eagerly-awaited match at Brentford.
“If I’m guessing today, I’m guessing she will be available, but that’s just speculation,” said Gustavsson, whose side will be facing an England outfit who’ve not lost in 30 matches while also lifting the European title.
“So I need to talk to sports science and medicine staff and Sam herself, and see where she’s at on Tuesday – but I know she would love to play.”
The coach made it sound as if Kerr could even have been brought on in the latter stages against Scotland after her understudies had failed to hit the target in response to Nicola Docherty’s freakish, looping 47th minute strike.
“Of course, I have to admit it was a temptation to bring her on. It’s itching in me, and itching in Sam, but we’d agreed on a long talk last night that the best thing for her was to rest this one against Scotland,” said Gustavsson.
“She’s coming off an extremely tough game environment at Chelsea with back-to-back games every week for almost two months.
“It’s about the bigger picture. If it was me 15 years ago as a young inexperienced, coach, thinking that the short-term result is what matters, I’d probably have played her and risked the big picture.
“But now with a little bit more experience, understanding there is a bigger picture, I don’t want to win at the expense of sacrificing and risking key players’ health.”
Before Friday’s match, Kerr could be seen on the touchlines appearing to be moving a little gingerly, with Chelsea doubtless desperate that she is not risked in any way ahead of a host of key matches in the FA Cup and Women’s Champions League semi-finals as well as the Women’s Super League.
But without the firepower of Kerr and the injured trio of Caitlin Foord, Emily Gielnik and Kyah Simon on Friday, the Matildas looked short on striking quality, apart from a sharp-looking Cortnee Vine, who struck the bar with one shot and should have converted another.
“I think the forwards did a tremendous job on the defensive side; on the attacking side, we struggled to activate them good enough,” said Gustavsson.
There was, however, plenty of quality on show from fullback Ellie Carpenter, back in an Australian shirt for the first time in a year after her ACL rupture.
“Ellie brings a lot of confidence and energy to our team and to our backline,” said captain Clare Polkinghorne.
“She’s a very aggressive player, loves to get forward and she’s really hard to handle, so really nice to see her back and to have her back in camp. It’s a big boost for us.”