Stand-in skipper Steph Catley insists the Matildas can rally without injured captain Sam Kerr for as long as required as the star striker plays a role from the sidelines.
Kerr was a shock scratching from Thursday night’s opening win over Ireland with a calf injury, suffered at training the day before, that will also at least rule her out of the July 27 clash with Nigeria in Brisbane.
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Clairsy & Lisa spoke to 7News sports reporter Anna Hay on Friday morning about the devastating news, which broke at the 11th hour just as the Matildas were arriving at Accor Stadium in Sydney.
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Meanwhile, vice-captain Catley stepped up to take the armband and fill the leadership void, including scoring the decisive penalty -normally Kerr’s role – in the 52nd minute of a scrappy 1-0 win.
Catley said the players had focused on delivering for their sidelined captain.
“It was tough. It was probably one of the most heartbreaking moments of my career, to be fair,” Catley told reporters. “Sam’s one of the best players in the world. She’s our spiritual leader. She means so much to this team.
“So to have her go down a day before a moment like this 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.
“So we’ll do everything we can to get as far as we can and then hopefully we see Sam Kerr later on.
“For as long as maybe she misses she’s still got a role. She’s massive for us and she’s so, so important.
“She’s our spiritual leader and whatever role she plays in the next however long will be massive.”
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.”
Coach Tony Gustavsson hailed how Kerr had handled herself.
“Sam was very clear when she brought the team together and said, ‘this is not about me, this is about you’,” he said.
“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.”