Australia’s preparations for the Women’s World Cup dramatically ramp up when they face European champions the Netherlands in Eindhoven at the weekend. The game, in front of an expected full house of 35,000 at the Philips Stadion, will give coach Ante Milicic an real idea of how his charges are faring with a week to go before the tournament in France kicks off.
It should also give several fringe players a final chance to impress Milicic in a game situation before the Matildas open their campaign against Italy on 9 June. Here are five players hoping to make an impact.
Every championship team has a critical squad member who can seemingly keep calm when the footballing hand of cards is folding around them. The team environment can be a tumultuous one where moods can fluctuate and opinions differ – and that’s just off the field. Luik’s calm demeanour will be a boon to the Matildas in France, and her pace and perfect ball distribution will be no surprise to players who have faced her in the W-League for the past decade, or those in the national leagues of Iceland, Denmark, England, Sweden and Spain in recent seasons.
Luik is a championship player. Not flashy, she anchors central midfield with a cool head, and steered Melbourne City to back-to-back-to-back championships in their first years, a championship with Brisbane Roar prior to that and the Women’s Asian Cup in 2010.
With 21 international caps to her name, but no World Cup appearances, Luik is likely to make her debut playing deep in Australia’s midfield, perhaps as understudy to Elise Kellond-Knight. In a tournament where Australia are expected to go deep into the knock-out rounds, she will be key to sharing the miles in the midfielders’ legs.
Harrison, coming off two knee reconstructions, leap-frogged youngster Alex Chidiac and veteran Teresa Polias for a prized spot in the Matildas’ squad. Currently playing for Washington Spirit in the NWSL, she heads to France match fit and with fresh experience of playing against some of the world’s top players.
Harrison’s tenacity and work rate are traits Milicic values, and her ability to read the game and squeeze balls through the opposition’s back line will be welcome if called on. Her capacity to do a job both in midfield and defensive positions should also prove useful in such a long tournament.
Gielnik is a fighter who has worked hard over many years to make a major tournament; having finally made it, she’s out to make one of the striker roles her own. The 27-year-old solidified a spot at her first World Cup with a starring role in Melbourne Victory’s turn-around season, which saw them transform from cellar dwellers to premiership winners. Along with a handful of fringe Matildas, including Teigen Allen and former Brisbane Roar teammate Laura Alleway, her performances in a Victory shirt have resurrected her international career.
Gielnik’s sheer intimidation factor – height, pace and strength – make it difficult to contend with her. Her runs are powerful and decisive, and her aerial strength poses a test to any defence. Think Abby Wambach of the previous US generation, or Cheryl Salisbury, voted Australia’s best player of last century.
Put the phrase “16-year-old Mary Fowler” on your World Cup bingo card, because if Fowler makes an appearance in France, we’re bound to hear these words from match commentators.
Fowler is likely to be known as a trailblazer of the “full-time generation” in Australia, a female player who hasn’t known the experience of studying or working full-time as they train and play as a professional footballer.
She has travelled extensively with her family in pursuit of football excellence and ambition, with both her sister Ciara and brother Quivi playing for Irish national underage teams in recent years.
Fowler is mature for her age, plays off both feet and knows how to find a way to goal. Milicic could use her as a foil for fatigued forwards later in the group stage or knockout rounds, or even earlier if injury strikes any key starters or the team is looking for inspiration in the final third and desperate for a result.
With the third goalkeeper spot in Milicic’s squad up for grabs, all eyes were on this season’s W-League, where Eliza Campbell was excellent again for Perth Glory, Sarah Willacy kept Adelaide United in the finals’ race until the final round and Casey Dumont shone for Melbourne Victory.
But Milicic cast the net wider to the US college system and found Micah excelling in goal for UCLA. While Luik is the only other US college graduate in the current Matildas line up, Micah is the first to be called up while on scholarship.
Five years ago, when she was 16, Micah was recognised as goalkeeper of the tournament at the National Training Centres Challenge. Unlike outfield players of her generation like Alex Chidiac, she was made to wait to make her W-League debut as she played understudy to Germany’s World Cup winner Nadine Angerer at Brisbane Roar for two seasons. Her move to Western Sydney Wanderers was more fruitful and she saw game time across the season before taking up a scholarship at UCLA.
A call from Alen Stajcic in 2017 to back-fill the injured Lydia Williams at the Tournament of Nations in the US exposed Micah to the Matildas’ environment, but it was her call-up to the squad in 2019 under Milicic for the friendly against the US that put her in a position to win a ticket to the World Cup.