College Football & Football Analyst
BRISBANE, Australia – The biggest decision Tony Gustavson had to make during Australia’s dramatic quarter-final win over France was bringing Sam Kerr off the bench.
Kerr, the 29-year-old captain, did not start the Matildas’ fifth World Cup match against Les Bleus as he is still recovering from a calf injury suffered shortly before the start of the tournament. He missed all three of his team’s group stage matches and then played just 10 minutes in the Round of 16 win over Denmark.
In Saturday’s quarterfinals, Kerr came on in the second half and played a total of 65 minutes, including burying a penalty kick during an uber-emotional shootout to end the game.
Kerr later said it was part of a master plan.
„I was ready to go, but we had planned this whole tournament and we had to stick to it,” Kerr said. „On the bench, I was ready to come on. I tried to focus on what my role was, what my job was. And it’s hard to come off the bench as a sub. So, I had to get that focus back. I haven’t played the last two weeks because I haven’t played much.”
Australia now advances to its first World Cup semifinal in history and faces England in Sydney on Wednesday (coverage begins at 5 a.m. ET, with a 6 a.m. kickoff on FOX and the FOX Sports app). How much Kerr will play and whether he will start will continue to dominate the headlines. Especially now that the host nation has the chance to make more history by making it to the World Cup finals.
Kerr later admitted that the injury was emotionally difficult for him. This was the moment she had been waiting for her entire life. World Player of the Year for Australia when they hosted the World Cup on home soil.
Australia advanced to the semi-finals after a penalty shoot-out. France
„The first couple of days were a little silly,” Kerr said. „But the girls are smashing it and the best thing about this whole tournament is that it took a whole team and it’s been an amazing journey and I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to. Stay here and come back.
„I know I’ll be back on the pitch because I’ll be playing with a calf.”
Could the star striker have played the full 120 minutes against France?
„I mean, that’s like the million dollar question, right?” Kerr said with a laugh. „When I injured my calf, the plan was always to be ready for the semifinals and finals. So, I can [played the whole game], but who knows what would have happened. Women are tearing it up and completely dominating. So I think the plan went well.”
Despite Kerr being on the bench for the first 55 minutes of the game, the game was lively. Both Australia and France had plenty of missed chances in front of goal and it always felt like a key moment was coming.
Australia vs France great moments
Meanwhile, any moment a picture of Kerr sitting on the Brisbane Stadium video board appeared, 49,461 fans roared. As her sides began to heat up, they grew louder. And when he took off his replacement pipe and went to midfield to enter the game, it looked like the Matildas had scored a goal.
Kerr made an immediate impact, essentially quadrupling Matildas energy level, which was already at full strength. In his first few seconds, he raced down the left wing, sending a cross to Hailey Raso, whose shot forced French goalkeeper Pauline Peyraud-Magnin into a diving save.
In the next few minutes, Australia had two corner kicks and more scoring opportunities. The game felt different with her on the court.
„When Sam came in, we really impressed them,” Gustavson said.
„I tried to bring the energy, I tried to lift the girls up and I felt the momentum was swinging our way a little bit, but you know, that’s what you’ve got to do with the mates,” Kerr added. „That’s what you have to do as a team player, change the game and do your job. It’s not easy to be a sub. I don’t envy people who are super subs. It’s a fantastic job they do. I feel I tried my best and did my best for the team.”
Immediate reactions to Australia’s epic win
Gustavsson later told reporters that the most important decision he had to make was when to bring Kerr. The coach was told by the medical team the night before that Kerr had limited minutes, so if the game went to overtime — which of course it did — they would have to consider that risk.
„It was a big decision to get it right,” Gustavsson said.
Australia got it right and now have an even bigger game against England. Will Kerr start? That will remain a question until the lineups are released an hour before kickoff on Wednesday.
Regardless, the Matildas should be relieved of their superstar’s performances in these last two games.
„I feel good about it and have all the training under my belt,” Kerr said. „I feel ready to go.”
Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and football for Fox Sports. He previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of „Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @leganlitman.
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