Australia’s ‘mature performance’ gets them to the quarterfinals (0:57)

Marissa Lordanic reacts to Australia’s 2-0 win over Denmark to advance into the World Cup quarterfinals. (0:57)

  • Joey Lynch, Australia Correspondent


Joey Lynch is a Melbourne-based sports journalist, AYA Cancer advocate, cynical centre-half and Zack Ryder mark. Primarily working on football, he has covered the Socceroos, Matildas, A-League, W-League, Y-League, the Australian grassroots and beyond.

Aug 7, 2023, 12:25 PM ET

Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson has admitted he didn’t even know when he woke up on Monday morning that he would be giving Sam Kerr her first minutes of the Women’s World Cup in the team’s 2-0 win over Denmark. But he believes the striker’s return from a calf injury can be the icing on the cake of a team increasingly shaping into potential World Cup contenders.

Goals from Caitlin Foord and Hayley Raso, both featuring masterful build-up work from Mary Fowler, gave Australia a comfortable 2-0 cushion before Kerr entered the field in Sydney; the host nation surviving early waves of pressure from Denmark before breaking the game open with Foord’s 29th-minute opener and then sealing it with Raso’s 70th-minute strike.

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With progression to the quarterfinals all but secure, Gustavsson subsequently opted to give Kerr her first limited exposure to the tournament in the final 10 minutes, bringing her on to the largest ovation the 75,784 at Stadium Australia gave all night.

He had opted not to bring his talisman on in similar circumstances in their final group game against Canada, saying post-game that it was important she gets one more week’s recovery into her troublesome calf, but on this occasion deemed the risks worth the potential rewards.

“If a team should be successful you cannot only rely on one player,” said Gustavsson.

“And I do not say this out of disrespect for Sam because you know how much I love working with Sam and how much I say she’s the best forward in the world.

“But I think Sam coming back now could be a good thing in the sense that we don’t need to look at her taking over and having everything on her shoulder.

“It’s a team effort and a team tournament and it’s that icing on the cake, it’s that extra that comes in. So in that sense, I think it is a bonus for us.”

Beyond the return of Kerr, Monday evening’s win represented another important step towards staging a deep run into a home World Cup for Australia, with Fowler and Foord backing up their standout games against Canada with another starring role.

Able to score on any side in the world when they’re able to get out at speed and, barring some howlers against Nigeria, presenting as a much-improved defensive outfit, Australia appear to be increasingly shaping up as threats for the World Cup even with Kerr’s limited contributions.

“I could sit here and say [putting Kerr on] was easy, but it wasn’t,” Gustavsson told reporters post-game.

“Those decisions are big. It takes a lot of talk, a lot of communication, and a lot of back and forth together with the experts around me and my support team.

“It’s thanks to my sports science and sports medicine team. They’ve been world-class.

“We had a lot of meetings last night and we had a long meeting today. We had a lot of meetings, a lot of talks with Sam. When do we use her? If we use her? Maybe she needs some minutes to mentally and physically get ready for the next game but that means the risk as well – how much you’re willing to risk?

“It’s a tough decision. Today, I hope I get it right even though I was a bit nervous when she slipped. So I hope she’s okay!”

The slip Gustavsson is referring to was the 90th-minute incident in which Kerr slid to the ground without contact as she tried to plant and contest a second ball in the Danish penalty area, with her legs appearing to get folded up beneath her.

“I just slipped,” Kerr reassured reporters post-game. “I have terrible groins and just fell over like a normal thing. I think it’s just on a microscope cause I’ve been injured the last three weeks, but [it’s] nothing.

“The physios have a plan [for her] and I asked him if I could run after the game and they said no. So I’m sure I’ll just be following their plan like I have the last few weeks.”