Australian coach Tony Gustavsson (L) and captain Sam Kerr were all smiles at their pre-match press conference (FRANCK FIFE)
Australia coach Tony Gustavsson has defended keeping Sam Kerr’s Women’s World Cup injury secret, saying he did so for tactical reasons and to protect his star player.
The Chelsea forward’s name was a shock omission from the team sheet for the co-hosts’ 1-0 win over Ireland in Sydney on Thursday — the first sign that something was wrong.
Australia’s all-time top scorer and captain then issued a social media statement revealing she had a calf injury and will be out of at least the opening two games of the tournament in a big blow to her side.
After beating Ireland, Gustavsson admitted he had known that Kerr was a major doubt when the pair fronted the press on the eve of the game.
Gustavsson and Kerr had been all smiles at the pre-match media conference and said nothing about it, despite being asked by reporters if the team had any injury worries.
“I hope you respect and understand that when we sat here (on Wednesday) that I couldn’t speak openly about it,” he told reporters after the match, coming clean.
“At that point in time we didn’t know or understand what it was and we were waiting for results of the scans.”
But it was also a tactical move, he acknowledged, with so much at stake in a home World Cup and with Australia expected to go far.
“Sam is a massive part of Ireland’s game plan, as you can understand, and we didn’t want to give that away in advance,” he said.
“But once we came to the stadium we didn’t play any kind of mind games… we wanted to wait until the last minute when we came to the stadium to not give too much away.”
The subterfuge paid off with Ireland coach Vera Pauw confirming she only found out about Kerr’s absence when the team sheet was released an hour before kick-off.
Gustavsson said the decision to stay silent was also about protecting Kerr, who was emotional at the time, and not overshadow their build-up.
“We wanted to protect Sam and the team emotionally not to have to answer all the questions,” he said, revealing the players were “devastated” at the talismanic striker’s absence.
“Sam was very clear to say this is not about me, this about you, this is about the team playing. She wanted the focus to be on the team and the players,” he added.
“To be able to do that, in that devastating moment for her personally, says a lot about her as the captain of this team.”
Arsenal defender Steph Catley, who stood in as captain and scored the winner from the penalty spot against Ireland, praised the team for putting their “heartbreak” aside to grind out a nervy victory.
“We had to gather ourselves pretty quickly. But I think we used her spirit and the fact that she wasn’t able to be out there with us to help push us on,” she said.