Boycott now behind them, Matildas add new faces for China trip

Fresh face: Tara Andrews is the only uncapped player named in the Matildas squad for friendly matches against China and England later this month. Photo: Ashley Feder/Getty ImagesHaving pulled out of last month’s tour of the USA due to a dispute over the almost-resolved Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Matildas will return to action for a crucial pair of friendly matches in China later this month.

Matildas coach Alen Stajcic has turned his attention to the next major challenge – picking a touring squad with qualification for the 2016 Rio Olympics firmly in mind.

Given the withdrawal from the US tour, these games – against China and England – have assumed extra importance in the eyes of the coach.

“Obviously these matches are critical. As it stands at this moment they are our last matches before we go into those Rio qualifiers,” Stajcic said. “With the W-League season there aren’t many opportunities to get internationals in between, so this is our last opportunity to play some proper internationals before those critical qualifiers.

“There is a lot of hard work to be done between now and the qualifiers, and we’ve certainly got a tough task in front of us to qualify.”

Four new faces have come into the squad since the World Cup, where Australia bowed out at the quarter-final stage.

“It’s a good opportunity for players who were in the World Cup squad to keep their spot but there are also some opportunities for some new players who have performed well in the W-League and in camp to try and stake a claim and show if they can play at international level,” Stajcic said. “Amy Harrison was the Young Matildas captain and is a very gifted and creative player so she’ll add a different dimension to us.

“Tara Andrews has been a good goal scorer and someone who can hold the ball up. She had a good season in the American second-tier competition, performed really well at camp and certainly earned the right to be in this squad.

“Georgia Yeoman-Dale was probably the standout at the camp and together with Caitlin Cooper, hopefully these four players can do well in China.”

Like the Olyroos, the Matildas failed to qualify for London 2012 – a significant black mark against a team once considered a genuine medal shot. That blot has increased the pressure ahead of the Rio qualification tournament, to be held in February and March next year in Japan. Only two Asian nations will make it to Brazil.

Meanwhile, ex-Newcastle Jets Head Coach Gary van Egmond – whose daughter Emily van Egmond is one of the team’s star players – has been named Matildas assistant coach. He replaces Ross Aloisi, who has become his brother’s right-hand man at Brisbane Roar.

“There probably aren’t many more experienced and qualified coaches in the country than Gary,” Stajcic said. “Having won an A-League title, been around the Joeys and AIS for a long time and also being a former Socceroo, we’re very fortunate to get a man of his experience and calibre. I know he’s going to add great value to the team and to me as well.”

Matildas squad for China tour [date and time of matches TBC]: Laura Alleway, Tara Andrews, Mackenzie Arnold (gk), Tameka Butt, Steph Catley, Caitlin Cooper, Larissa Crummer, Lisa De Vanna, Caitlin Foord, Katrina Gorry, Amy Harrison, Michelle Heyman, Elise Kellond-Knight, Alanna Kennedy, Samantha Kerr, Clare Polkinghorne, Hayley Raso, Kyah Simon, Emily van Egmond, Lydia Williams (gk), Georgia Yeoman-Dale.

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