Sam Kerr at centre of World Cup debate as former Matilda slaps down 'silly' move

Opinion is divided about whether Sam Kerr should start for the Matildas in their quarter-final clash with France at the World Cup.

Sam Kerr in action for the Matildas at the Women's World Cup.
Sam Kerr is at the centre of a major selection headache for the Matildas. Image: Getty

Former Matildas player Emily Gielnik has urged Tony Gustavsson to resist the temptation of bringing Sam Kerr back into the starting side for Australia's quarter-final clash with France on Saturday. Kerr made her first appearance in the Matildas' win over Denmark in the round of 16, playing 15 minutes at the death to blow out the cobwebs following a calf injury.

Gustavsson is now facing the tricky decision of whether or not to start Kerr, with many suggesting he must stick with the winning side who thrashed Canada 4-0 and dispatched Denmark 2-0. Kerr is Australia's most prolific goal-scorer and one of the best strikers in the world, but the likes of Caitlin Foord, Mary Fowler and Hayley Raso have been sensational in her absence.

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Speaking on Optus Sport on Monday, Gielnik said it would be 'silly' to bring Kerr back into the starting side. “I’ve been out of the bubble now so I don’t know what Tony G’s going to do – I actually think it would be silly if we started Sam again," she said.

“Right now, you’ve got to look at it from a fitness point of view. She’s just coming back from a calf injury, we got her the minutes that she needs, got her the confidence she needs, they’re building her up for these bigger moments.

“You can’t throw her back in the deep end too quickly, just from an injury point of view and a protective point of view. The players are doing well, they’ve built a great cohesion now and if you’ve got Sam Kerr on the bench, what a weapon to have. She’s a great weapon to have but I think just putting her in there straight away, obviously she’d love to, but you’ve just got to think of the outcome.”

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However football icon Ian Wright scoffed at suggestions Kerr wouldn't start if fully fit. “Are you serious? We’re talking about the best No.9 in the world,” he said.

“With all due respect to whoever is playing up front, if Sam Kerr’s fit she plays. And if I was the manager, she plays.

“They’ve done brilliantly to get themselves into this situation because they know, at some stage, Sam Kerr’s going to be fit and she’s coming straight back into the team. This team know that, this team want that, because they know if it gets to the stage where it’s on the line, she’s going to deliver.”

Mary Fowler and Sam Kerr in action for the Matildas.
Mary Fowler and Sam Kerr in action for the Matildas against France. (Photo by Maryam Majd/Getty Images)

Former Socceroos captain Craig Foster also dismissed the notion that Kerr could disrupt the Matildas' momentum. “I don’t think so, you saw when she came on with 15 minutes to go what a difference she makes,” he said.

“And as extraordinary as this team are, you’ve seen at times against Denmark even Emily van Egmond playing as a No.9, she was playing nominally as a No.10 with Mary Fowler ahead, but Mary was dropping in all the way and that’s when she made that incredible pass that everyone is talking about. But that means that Emily van Egmond is sitting up as a No.9, she’s trying to head the ball, she’s doing things that are unnatural. And that’s the commitment that she’s had, she’s done an incredible job.

“You bring Sam Kerr in, as the best No.9 in the world, of course it’s a whole different level. And that will also allow Emily to go back in midfield and contribute in attacking midfield where she’s so great. It shows the commitment of the players to be doing things they’re not used to doing, in getting through these games, but any minutes that Sam Kerr has to play for Australia which don’t put her at risk of further injury, she needs to be on the field.”

Kerr missed the Matildas' first four matches of the World Cup before her cameo against Denmark. In her absence the Matildas have had six different goal-scorers - Fowler, Raso, Foord, Steph Catley, Emily van Egmond and Alanna Kennedy.

When asked after the Denmark game if she would start in the quarter-finals, Kerr played her cards close to her chest. "I mean, I have a plan," she said. "The physios have a plan, I asked them 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."

Women's World Cup quarter-finals:

* all times AEST

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