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Can the Matildas win the World Cup? Affirmative, according to Ian Wright.
The Arsenal great has declared Tony Gustavsson’s side are primed to go all the way at their home tournament – even though it pains the former England international to say so, given they are on course to meet his native country in the semi-finals.
Wright, who is in Australia for the duration of the tournament, has watched the co-hosts mature over the course of their three-week campaign, from a shaky start which included the 3-2 loss to Nigeria to the last two compelling wins over Canada and Denmark.
There is a sense now that momentum is building as the Matildas return to Brisbane to prepare for Saturday night’s quarter-final at Suncorp Stadium, having proven beyond doubt they can play ruthless football without Sam Kerr.
Now, with Kerr back in the mix and a nation behind them, he believes they are close to unstoppable.
“Now Sam Kerr’s back, with the way they’re playing and the way the crowd are obviously so much behind [them], you have to say they’re one of the favourites to win the tournament,” Wright said in Sydney on Tuesday.
Ian Wright at Allianz Stadium watching England’s group-stage win over Denmark.Credit: AP
“They’re getting a lot of that European experience. Looking at someone like Ellie Carpenter: When Lucy Bronze left Lyon, Ellie Carpenter at 21 went straight in – and we’re talking about Lucy Bronze, a Ballon d’Or world player of the year [nominee].
“Ellie Carpenter went straight in and it was seamless for her – that’s the calibre we’re talking about. It’s amazing. I think they’ve been brilliant, and long may it continue for them – unless they get England.”
Should Australia see off either France or Morocco in the quarter-finals they will be on a collision course with England, who came into this tournament as favourites and have shown moments of brilliance – particularly from chief entertainer turned red card receiver Lauren James – but also struggled to find the groove that won them the European championships.
Wright said England’s players, several of whom are teammates of Kerr at Chelsea, had reason to fear the Matildas.
“Without a doubt, absolutely,” he said. “Simply because Sam Kerr’s back, and anybody who watches the WSL knows Sam Kerr is cooking every single defender in England at the moment on a regular basis.
“She’s a teammate of Millie Bright and Jess Carter. They know her, so you are hoping to a certain extent that they will know certain things and be able to deal with her. But in respect of a team that you fear, [there’s] Caitlin Foord, [Kyra] Cooney-Cross, and I love the way [Katrina] Gorry is playing.
“I’m really pleased to see someone like Mary Fowler get a chance. Her time with Man City with Gareth Taylor, it’s been really unfortunate for her because we’re seeing in this World Cup she’s got a lot to offer.
“I think both teams would be equally respectful of each other, but obviously when you’ve got Sam Kerr on the pitch, you’re feeling like you’ve got a little bit more of a chance of winning.”
How Gustavsson will utilise Kerr in the final eight depends on both the striker’s recovery from her long-anticipated 10-minute stint off the bench and whether the coach will want to change the starting XI which has been so successful in two consecutive games.
“Are you serious? Are you serious? We’re talking about the best No.9 in the world,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. With all due respect to whoever’s playing up front, if Sam Kerr’s fit she plays.
“If I was a manager, she plays. They’ve done brilliantly to get themselves into the situation because they know that, at some stage, Sam Kerr’s going to be fit and she’s coming straight into the team. This team know that if it gets to a stage where it’s on the line, she’s going to deliver.”
Wright was speaking at the PCYC Auburn in Lidcombe, where a new community football pitch was launched in partnership with EA Sports ambassador Kerr.
The new Sam Kerr x FC Future football pitch in Lidcombe.
EA Sports also announced it will expand its FC Fixtures initiative with a new 12-month girls’ grassroots program in NSW, featuring training camps across the state.
They will run in partnership with PCYC clubs, while the Western Sydney Wanderers will also run coaching clinics and training camps to provide mentoring for women and girls.
“You want to inspire people to play, and I think, like we saw in the Euros in England, you give people no choice when you are successful,” Wright said.
“They’re going to inspire a nation to play, and [to nurture] six, seven world-class [Matildas] players without the kind of infrastructure we’ve got in Europe, it’s amazing.”
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