So just a matter of days away now and the good news from Matildas camp in Chengdu is that Sarah Walsh has passed a fitness test on her knee and will be in the squad for the 2010 AFC Women's Asian Cup. That means Michelle Heyman is back on a plane to Australia. But overall for Australia's chances, it's a GREAT thing that Walsh is fit because she is one of just four Australian gals plying their trade overseas and that experience is going to count for a lot come May 19.
The top Matildas goalscorer in the current squad was pretty relieved to get there, “It’s been a long four weeks and I’m very grateful to our medical team and Tom (Sermanni) who worked so hard and showed me so much support to get me back in time for the cup,” Walsh said. “Now my knee is strong it’s about concentrating on my fitness and getting out there to help the girls qualify for the World Cup and win the Asian Cup.”
But when the match kicks-off at 5pm Australian time on Wednesday, who will actually be out there? I'm not sure if Walsh will be on the field, although she is usually first-choice striker with DeVanna coming off the bench, but will her knee be up for the 60 or 70minutes she will have to play if she starts? So there are still plenty of questions as there are a few players in the mix in this squad that didn't play in the last four friendlies. So here is my guess at the starting eleven, in four-four-two although they are probably just as likely to play four-three-three, for the first game against Vietnam.
GK - Melissa Barbieri
Defenders - Clare Polkinghorne, Thea Slatyer, Kim Carroll, Heather Garriock
Midfielders - Collette McCallum, Lauren Colthorpe, Elise Kellond-Knight, Sally Shipard
Strikers - Katie Gill, Lisa de Vanna
Bench - Sarah Walsh, Karla Reuter, Tameka Butt, Kyah Simon, Lydia Williams (GK)
But a few reasons, given Barbieri is now Matildas captain I expect her to start in every-game, with Williams and then Dumont as the back-up order in case of injury. I think the central defenders will be Kim Carroll and Thea Slatyer, an experienced duo who are also just very very tough, but with some speed on the outside in Polkinghorne and Garriock because the Matildas will need it to shut down those speedy Asian attacks. There is so many quality midfielders it's hard to pick which way Tom Sermanni will structure it there, but Collette McCallum is the best set-piece taker in the Matildas and will start. I really like the way KK plays the game, so she's in my team, but could also be Kylie Ledbrook in a more defensive position, or Aivi Luik, or Kyah Simon in a role there. I'd also like to see Sal Shipard get a go, because after last year's W-League season debacle which you can find more about here and here (although they have spelt her name wrong, come on Half Time Heroes), I think she deserves it. She was a starting member of the team in the 2007 World Cup, when she was still a teenager. But compared to lots of other players, she doesn't have that much game-time under her belt, so you can see how other players would be ahead of her. I think Tameka Butt will definitely play, but just whether it's an impact player off the bench or as a starter, I'm waiting to see. The strikers, well that's probably the easiest. It will be Katie Gill and either Lisa de Vanna or Sarah Walsh. I'm 99 per cent sure on that one.
Given I have been overseas and not actually been able to watch any of those lead-up games (which has frustrated me no end), this is probably way off, but I thought I would give it a go anyway. So please chip in with your starting XI's and let's see who is closest to pinning the tail on the donkey!
And remember, for all of you lucky enough to be in Australia, watch the game live on ABC. After all, they have also just agreed to cover the competition until its conclusion on May 29, on top of Australia's group matches. So if the Matildas do make it through to the finals, they will be live on TV too. And finally,
GO MATILDAS GO!