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Fitness fears dominate selections for Matildas’ bid to bring home World Cup

The Matildas' injury concerns have presented coach Tony Gustavsson a series of tough calls.

The Matildas' injury concerns have presented coach Tony Gustavsson a series of tough calls. Photo: AAP

Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson has no choice but to make some educated gambles when selecting his final Women’s World Cup squad.

It’s just a matter of how many dice he’s willing to roll.

Of the 29 players Gustavsson has to cut to 23, as many as 20 – led by Sam Kerr, Caitlin Foord and Steph Catley – shape as locks for the final squad named on Monday.

It’s the final few, including some big names with limited exposed form, that the Swede faces big decisions on.

The biggest gamble would be selecting Kyah Simon.

The striker was called into the preliminary squad and a recent Gold Coast training camp despite not playing since tearing her ACL in October.

Injury-plagued Manchester City centre-back Alanna Kennedy hasn’t featured for the Matildas since September, but it’s hard to see Gustavsson overlooking her if she’s fit.

Tough choices

Midfielder Chloe Logarzo hasn’t played since January after recovering from a knee reconstruction, then battling plantar fasciitis.

Attacker Emily Gielnik’s season ended in March due to an ankle injury – and she previously had limited minutes under Gustavsson.

The coach will have to choose between members of that quartet – or fit fringe types like Amy Sayer, Larissa Crummer, Remy Siemsen and veteran Aivi Luik.

Other key players are under injury clouds.

Young gun Mary Fowler has been recovering from a late-season back fracture suffered at Manchester City training.

Fowler told AAP in May she would be fine for the World Cup.

Veteran defender Clare Polkinghorne hasn’t featured in Sweden recently, while Tameka Yallop (ankle) hasn’t played since April.

Midfielder Emily van Egmond recently returned from a back injury and should join Alex Chidiac as one of Gustavsson’s impact substitutes.

Goalkeeper Teagan Micah has fought back from concussion and is expected to be named alongside Mackenzie Arnold and Lydia Williams.

Fit-again defender Steph Catley overcame several injury scares while watching Arsenal teammates Vivianne Miedema, Beth Mead and Leah Williamson suffer ACL tears that ended their World Cup dreams.

“You start to pick up a few niggles and something doesn’t feel right here and there and you obviously do get nervous,” Catley told AAP.

“I had my foot (injury) and I rehabbed back from that and there was a few moments there where it just wasn’t feeling better for a while.

“I was like, ‘oh my gosh, this is not the year that this can be happening’.”

If there’s one difference between this squad and previous iterations, it’s depth.

‘Strongest squad we’ve ever had’

The emergence of centre-back Clare Hunt and speedy full-back Charlotte Grant provides defensive reliability.

Kyra Cooney-Cross’ rise and her dynamic partnership with Katrina Gorry has the midfield ticking over.

It’s a ringing endorsement of Gustavsson’s willingness to debut 19 players across his tenure – initially casting the net wide before narrowing his focus over the past nine months.

“This is the strongest squad we’ve ever had,” Foord told AAP.

“In the past that’s maybe been something that’s hurt us in tournaments when we get deep and we pick up injuries or people are tired and (there’s) not so much rotation.

“We now have a squad where you can put out anyone and make changes to the team and still be as strong as what you started off with.

“That’s, for me, what the most exciting thing is going into this World Cup.”

MATILDAS’ PRELIMINARY SQUAD

Goalkeepers: Mackenzie Arnold, Teagan Micah, Jada Whyman, Lydia Williams

Defenders: Ellie Carpenter, Steph Catley, Charlotte Grant, Clare Hunt, Alanna Kennedy, Aivi Luik, Courtney Nevin, Clare Polkinghorne

Midfielders: Alex Chidiac, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Katrina Gorry, Chloe Logarzo, Amy Sayer, Emily van Egmond, Clare Wheeler, Tameka Yallop

Forwards: Larissa Crummer, Caitlin Foord, Mary Fowler, Emily Gielnik, Sam Kerr, Hayley Raso, Remy Siemsen, Kyah Simon, Cortnee Vine.

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