Montpellier: Australia have had the better of their recent meetings with Brazil, but injury concerns and Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Italy mean the Matildas have little room for error in Thursday’s crucial FIFA Women’s World Cup Group C match.
Four consecutive wins over the South Americans, including a 3-1 triumph in their most recent clash last July, would ordinarily make Australia favourites but their loss to the Italians, coupled with Brazil’s 3-0 win over Jamaica, has them walking a tightrope, with a positive result at Stade de la Mosson crucial to their chances of reaching the knockout stage.
Adding to Ante Milicic’s concerns are the injury clouds hanging over a number of key players, including central defender Clare Polkinghorne.
The Australian head coach wouldn’t rule out the four-time World Cup stopper, but conceded it will be difficult for her to prove her fitness in time for the match.
“Clare still has soreness,” he said. “It’s a muscle injury obviously, it’s the hamstring, and we know with those injuries - unless she’s done sprinting work - it makes it difficult to participate in such a game.
“We’ll give her every chance to be available for the game. There’s a little bit more than 24 hours to go, we will assess it in the morning, and it is getting better and better, but, at the same time, there’s a duty of care for Clare there as well.”
While Polkinghorne’s presence in Australia’s starting line-up appears increasingly unlikely, Milicic had better news regarding the availability of attack-minded players Lisa De Vanna, Caitlin Foord and Mary Fowler, but perhaps the most crucial inclusion may be that of Elise Kellond-Knight – a player who many believe is a vital cog in Australia’s midfield.
“I wouldn’t say she’s missed a lot of football, but she hasn’t played enough match minutes in the last months,” explained Milicic.
“(But) she’s now done the work. We saw her play 15 odd minutes against Italy and she’s pulled up well from that, so we’ll make a decision later tonight whether she’ll start the game or use her off the bench, but it is very positive that we can use her.”
Less than a week after being rated as a potential dark horse to win the competition, the Matildas are potentially 90 minutes away from sitting on the brink of group stage elimination, with the unexpected loss to Italy giving them a nightmare start to France 2019.
Full-back Steph Catley said the opening match heartache her team suffered in Valenciennes had the potential to motivate them further ahead of what is now a crucial second fixture.
“It’s an awful way to lose a game,” she said. “So late, in a game we really wanted to win, but it doesn’t change anything.
“We looked forward to Brazil straight away and started focusing on that. (Losing a match like that) is not something you want, but the reaction you get from it can be very strong."
Should Polkinghorne be ruled unavailable, Australia’s dearth of central defenders makes Catley one of few players in the squad likely to be able to fill her shoes, and it’s a job the 25-year-old is confident of fulfilling.
“That’s a role I know how to play, and if I’m needed, I can definitely step in there and do a role,” she declared.
“But we’ve got an experienced backline, with cool, calm, collected heads to control the backline, no matter who’s in there.”
Match day minus one. All eyes on #AUSBRA. #WeAreMatildas #GoMatildas #FIFAWWC pic.twitter.com/qhB0LhwMHY
— Matildas (@TheMatildas) June 12, 2019
While the Australian media pack was focused on which players might be ruled out, Brazil’s press conference was largely focused on one player’s chances of coming into the team, with the talismanic Marta reportedly recovered from injury concerns of her own.
The six-time FIFA World Player of the Year played no part in Brazil’s opener, but head coach Vadão, while stopping short of guaranteeing her inclusion, confirmed his side’s greatest ever player is on the mend.
“Today Marta went back to training,” he revealed.
“We are still going to have a meeting tonight to see how she feels and make a decision. She has been responding very well to treatment. In the last two days we trained a little bit harder with her, so we’ll see.”
While Brazil have lost their last four matches against Australia, they have won their past 10 group stage matches at the FIFA Women’s World Cup, and with an 11th win offering such a reward, Vadão admitted he was tempted to include the 33-year-old star.
“We have a match where, if we win, we can basically eliminate Australia and move forward,” he declared.
“We still have the third placing (which could help Australia advance), but we will make sure we move forward.
“It’s not an easy decision precisely because of that: You can ensure your qualification using Marta, or you can preserve her and try to move forward without her."
Australia v Brazil
FIFA Women’s World Cup France 2019 Group c
Stade de la Mosson, Montpellier
Kick-off: 18.00 (local time)
Photos: AFP, FIFA via Getty Images