Games

How Gustavsson nailed ‘biggest decision’ of Matildas masterpiece

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It’s the image which captures the emotion of 25 million Australians.

Matildas superstar Ellie Carpenter, in the middle of the joyous huddle after the culmination of Australia’s extraordinary penalty shootout win over France, spotted the hero of the moment – goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold – and her face said it all.

Arnold had been Australia’s saviour, coming up with crucial stops as the Matildas’ prevailed 7-6 to book their spot in the World Cup semi-finals – against England, on Wednesday – for the first time.

And Carpenter knew who deserved the plaudits, immediately singling Arnold out as she sprinted to join the celebrating pack.

Carpenter had herself thundered home a crucial penalty to keep the shootout, and Australia’s dreams, alive.

8AM: GUSTAVSSON NAILS ‘BIGGEST DECISION’ IN MATILDAS MASTERSTROKE

Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson was adamant he got it right with his “biggest decision” of Australia’s marathon FIFA Women’s World Cup quarter-final triumph – when to call on captain Sam Kerr.

The Matildas beat France 7-6 in an epic Suncorp Stadium showdown that went the two-hour playing distance – including extra-time – on Saturday night after neither side could find the back of the net.

Matildas goalkeeper Mackenzie Arnold won player-of-the match honours after saving three penalties and also shining during the game proper with a string of saves to deny France.

Arnold also missed a kick in the shootout, but Kerr, who came on the 55th minute, didn’t.

Gustavsson had toyed with the idea of starting his star striker, but went with the medical advice, which suggested she couldn’t last the distance because of a calf injury that limited her tournament match-time to less than 20 minutes before the epic quarter-final battle.

“The biggest decision was when to bring Sam on,” Gustavsson said.

“It was a massive decision even before the game to leave her on the bench.

“Then it’s the timing. You want the timing right. I was informed that she had limited minutes for today, and then we had to put extra-time into consideration … because maybe it was another 30 minutes, so what’s the risk that she pulls the calf and how many minutes does she have.

“That was a massive decision to get that right. I think we got it right.”

Kerr had an immediate impact after replacing Emily van Egmond 10 minutes into the second half, with her impact helping the Matildas create two chances in quick succession.

“We had them, and then when Sam came in we really had them on the hook. We really got the momentum and from the fans as well, and we were very close to scoring two goals in that period,” Gustavsson said.

“You really want to go in and impact the game, which she did, but also you could see a little bit of fatigue throughout the game, which is natural.

“She hasn’t been able to train continually with intensity for a while, but just the fact that she could push through and then step up as a captain, especially after the vice-captain (Steph Catley) missed that (penalty) before as well, and bury it – It’s just a classic Sam Kerr moment, how she carries the team on her shoulders.”

As did Arnold, whose rollercoaster shootout included three saves, another save that was wiped out because she moved too early, and the penalty she took – which would have ended the shootout sooner has she scored it – that hit the post.

“From ‘Macca’ missing the (penalty) and being able to stay in the game to be that player that wins the game for us, it’s unheard of that mental strength of hers,” Gustavsson said.

“I’m really happy about that.

“The amount of heart and soul and passion that this team showed … there are different ways of defining success but for me success is when you leave it all out there, no matter the result.

“I’m probably one of the proudest and happiest coaches every right now because I’m so happy for so many other people.”

France coach Herve Renard described Arnold as a “Goliath” and tipped the Matildas to go all the way on home soil.

“This evening it was 50-50 but destiny chose Australia … I think they can win the World Cup,” Renard said. – MARCO MONTEVERDE

Originally published as FIFA World Cup 2023: How Tony Gustavsson nailed Matildas’ Sam Kerr call to reach semi-finals

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