Old and new give Westfield Matildas plenty of reasons for optimism
A constant theme from Westfield Matildas boss Alen Stajcic in the lead-up to and throughout the games against France and England was about building depth ahead of next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup.
And while his side didn’t manage a win in either game against the two European heavyweights, you can’t argue Stajcic didn’t achieve his goal.
Exciting teenage trio Mary Fowler, Amy Sayer and Princess Ibini were all given their first real introductions to senior international football over the last few days.
And didn’t they make an impression!
Fowler, who is still just 15, made a statement with her 27-minute cameo against France on the weekend and backed it up with another solid 24 minutes at Craven Cottage.
It was her introduction that sparked Australia’s late fightback, ending with Clare Polkinghorne’s equaliser six minutes from time.
But Fowler’s eye-catching impact came after both Sayer and Ibini earned their first starts for the Westfield Matildas.
It must have been a daunting take for the duo – just 16 and 18 respectively – against a side ranked third in the world and boasting some top-class talent.
But it took just six minutes for Sayer to show her class, receiving the ball under pressure in the middle of the park but she didn’t panic, wriggling free from a couple of players before starting an attack with an incisive pass.
While England was dominating possession and chances, Sayer looked Australia’s best threat, firing off a couple of shots in the first half to test keeper Mary Earps.
Ibini didn’t get many opportunities down the right wing but her pace and movement troubled the Lionesses when she got her chance.
It was only excellent low saves from Earps that denied the Sydney FC flyer either side of the break.
The composed performances from the trio of teens give plenty of reasons for optimism heading towards France 2019 and beyond.
And while the fresh faces certainly made their mark, a couple of experienced stars showed their quality as well.
Midfielder Elise Kellond-Knight doesn’t get the same plaudits of many of her teammates but is a key member of Stajcic’s squad.
‘KK’ became just the seventh player to earn her 100th Westfield Matildas cap, celebrating the milestone with a pinpoint corner to set-up Australia’s equaliser.
And goalscorer Clare Polkinghorne again came up big for the Westfield Matildas – at both ends.
After earlier clearing Fran Kirby’s goal-bound shot off the line, ‘Polks’ proved the hero with a towering 84th-minute header to give the visitor’s a hard-earned draw.
With a host of key stars to return to the squad for November’s home series against Chile, Stajcic faces the pleasant headache of trying to pick a squad that now has so many different options.
The future looks bright and there are plenty of reasons to be excited about the Westfield Matildas’ hopes leading into the FIFA Women’s World Cup next year.