Matildas at near-full strength for ‘World Cup final dress rehearsal’ against US

Captain Sam Kerr and vice-captain Steph Catley headline a near-full strength Matildas squad to play the United States in a friendly series coach Tony Gustavsson is treating as a dress rehearsal for the 2023 World Cup final.

Twenty-one players return from October’s home series against Brazil to again play in front of home crowds, this time against the world No 1 nation who denied them an Olympic bronze medal in Tokyo.

The USA, for whom Gustavsson was a long-time assistant including throughout their 2019 World Cup-winning campaign, are sending a squad comprised of mostly young and fringe players for the matches in Sydney on 27 November and then Newcastle on 30 November.

But even without Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan on the team sheet, Gustavsson means business – the next World Cup is around the corner and he knows co-hosts Australia will be expected to make at least the final stages.

“There truly is a no more exciting challenge for the team than to be taking on the world No 1 team, in front of thousands of passionate fans, in the stadium where the Fifa Women’s World Cup final will be played in 2023,” Gustavsson said.

“This could not be a better dress rehearsal for a World Cup final and we are going to treat it in the same way. From when we arrive to those match days with what we hope will be record crowds, this is our chance to prepare for the big moments that want to be a part of in 2023.”

Among the Matildas returning from injury are Manchester City winger Hayley Raso (shoulder) and Aston Villa forward Emily Gielnik (toe), though their involvement will likely be limited.

Sydney FC duo Jessika Nash and Charlize Rule, both 17, are the latest new call-ups and the Young Matildas could yet add their name to this year’s growing debutante list.

The large-scale retention is a nod to January’s Asian Cup, and Gustavsson will use the friendlies to fine-tune his line-up.

“In selecting the squad, balance was at the heart of the decision-making,” said the Swede. “We know that this is our final occasion to see the group together before announcing the squad for the AFC Women’s Asian Cup next year, and our focus remains on this crucial preparation.

“However, with another camp at home, we didn’t want to miss the chance to expose another two young players to our standards and team philosophy, and to find out whether they can be a part of the building of depth towards the Fifa Women’s World Cup in 2023.”

Matildas squad: Mackenzie Arnold, Angela Beard, Ellie Carpenter, Steph Catley, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Caitlin Foord, Mary Fowler, Emily Gielnik, Charlotte Grant, Bryleeh Henry, Alanna Kennedy, Sam Kerr (captain), Teagan Micah, Jessika Nash, Courtney Nevin, Clare Polkinghorne, Hayley Raso, Karly Roestbakken, Charlize Rule, Remy Siemsen, Kyah Simon, Emily van Egmond, Clare Wheeler, Lydia Williams, Tameka Yallop.