‘We weren’t honest’: Matildas’ big Sam Kerr admission

Cracking start for Australia in Sydney

Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson has let slip some of the team’s tactics after superstar Sam Kerr’s bombshell last-minute withdrawal from the FIFA Women’s World Cup opener against Ireland.

Kerr was ruled out of Thursday night’s match in the final minutes before it began, with the Matildas’ camp stunning fans and opponents with the last-gasp announcement.

Kerr, the Matildas captain and Australia’s highest-profile player, picked up a calf injury during Wednesday’s final training session. She will also miss Australia’s July 27 clash against Nigeria in Brisbane.

After suffering her injury, Kerr joined Gustavsson for the final pre-match press conference on Wednesday.

The issue was never mentioned. It became apparent only after Kerr was seen in tears at Stadium Australia in Sydney in the minutes before Thursday’s kick-off, and a statement quickly followed.

Ireland coach Vera Pauw has confirmed Australia’s opponents found out Kerr was going to miss the game only when the Matildas’ team sheet was released.

After the match, Gustavsson was quizzed on the tactics.

“Some people might be upset about why we weren’t honest about it in the press conference. But at that time we didn’t have all the answers either. We were waiting some confirmation about the scans at that time,” he said.

“A tournament is a lot about tactics and you do not want to give away anything. Sam is such a massive part of Ireland’s game plan and we didn’t want them to know until they ended up at the stadium here.

“But also we wanted to protect the team and Sam emotionally not to have to answer all the questions.”

He said it had been a tough 24 hours mentally for the team, and praised Kerr’s handling of the incident.

“The way Sam led the team speech in the locker room and today as well. She means a lot for the team, even though she is not on the park,” he said.

“Sam was very clear when she brought the team together and said, ‘This is not about me, this is about you’.

“She wanted to be focused on the team and for the players to be able to do that in that devastating moment for her personally says a lot about her as a captain for this team.”

Stand-in skipper Steph Catley stepped up for Kerr, filling the leadership void and scoring the decisive penalty –normally Kerr’s role – in the 52nd minute of Australia’s scrappy 1-0 win over Ireland.

“It was tough. It was probably one of the most heartbreaking moments of my career, to be fair,” she said afterward.

“Sam’s one of the best players in the world. She’s our spiritual leader. She means so much to this team.

“To have her go down a day before a moment like this was was pretty awful. But as a team, it added something to us, it added a little bit of extra fire.

“Everyone looked at it and said, ‘well, I’ve got to step up now because we don’t have Sam’. We spoke about that and we did that really well.”

Catley insisted Kerr, Australia’s all-time leading scorer with 63 goals in 121 games, would still play a crucial role while injured.

“Sam’s still around – she’s still got her effect on the team,” she said.

“She’s in every meeting. She’s in there at half-time talking to everyone, she’s doing the pre-game talk and she’s still with us.”

Young gun Mary Fowler played alongside Caitlin Foord in attack in Kerr’s absence.

“I obviously feel for Sam, because it’s such a big tournament and she means so much to this team and this country,” Fowler said.

“But there’s just been love from the teammates towards her and from her towards us. So we move forward and we keep going.”

Matildas star Elise Kellond-Knight also found much to be positive about, despite Kerr’s injury.

“My heart really breaks for Sammy. I know she wants to be out there, I know she wants to be a part of these two games,” she told the Seven Network on Friday.

“Luckily there’s another 22 players on this team. The team isn’t just Sam Kerr. We saw that on [in the warm-up game last] Friday night, so I think we can all be really confident that we can go into this game with plenty more opportunities where we’re going to create really good attacks.”

-with AAP

Topics: Matildas
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