Milicic weighs up changes as Matildas prepare for Brazil

Ante Milicic has hinted at changes to his personnel and backed his Matildas to rise to the challenge of facing a formidable Brazilian outfit in their second match at the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup.

The Matildas boss and vice-captain Steph Catley fronted the official pre-match press conference ahead of Friday morning’s vital clash (kick off 2:00am AEST) at the Stade de la Mosson in Montpellier.

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After the opening game's 2-1 loss to Italy, Australia are looking to bounce back immediately against the South American heavyweights, who opened their Group C campaign with a 3-0 win over Jamaica.

Here’s some of the key points to emerge from Thursday morning’s (AEST) press conference with Milicic and Catley.

Clare Polkinghorne’s fitness

The experienced centre-back is battling a tight hamstring and was only able to jog gently in the team’s final training session in Montpellier.

“She [Polkinghorne] still has soreness. With those injuries, unless she has done sprinting work it makes it difficult to participate in a game that will be played at a high tempo,” Milicic said.

“We’ll give her every chance to be available for the game. It is getting better and better, but there’s a duty of care to Clare as well.”

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If Polkinghorne is ruled out it is likely to cause a defensive reshuffle, with Catley set to switch from left-back to the middle and either Gema Simon or Amy Harrison to slot in on the left.

“It’s a role I know how to play and if I’m needed there I can definitely step in and do a role,” Catley said on the prospect of partnering Alanna Kennedy in the heart of defence.

“But we have an experienced backline and still have the cool, calm and collected heads in there that can control the backline no matter who is in there.”

Clare Polkinghorne is battling a hamstring strain and could miss the clash with Brazil
Clare Polkinghorne is battling a hamstring strain and could miss the clash with Brazil

‘KK’s’ return and new faces in attack

Milicic said midfielder Elise Kellond-Knight is edging closer to a start after her impressive 15-minute cameo against Italy.

Kellond-Knight’s World Cup preparation was hampered by hamstring and calf issues but if she is passed fit to start, it would provide a huge boost for the Matildas.

Milicic said Kellond-Knight’s defensive screening and composure on the ball would be a huge asset for his side, helping Caitlin Foord have more influence on the match in the playmaking role.

“That's an important part that No.10 area but also, how do we get the ball into that No.10 area?” he said.

“Those are things that we've worked on, and we've worked on a few little different variations in our formation and combinations.

“That's something we've definitely looked at and at the same time I feel with ‘KK’ coming back into the squad that's very important for us because she's a real natural No.6 for us and a lot of the good play that we do have, or we've had in the past anyway, goes through her.

Milicic also flagged the possibility of testing out some different names up front throughout the second game.

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“With the front three [there are] possibilities, of course,” he said.

“That’s something that we’ve looked at. There’s probably one area particularly in the wide parts that we’ve got a few options with our wide strikers – so there’s a good chance that we’ll be looking to change a couple of things out there.”

Elise Kellond-Knight could be ready to start after coming off the bench against Italy
Elise Kellond-Knight could be ready to start after coming off the bench against Italy

Stopping Brazilian flair

Brazil are a familiar foe for the Matildas, the teams having met four times over the last two years, all ending in wins for Australia.

But Milicic knows they are a dangerous opponent, especially in major tournaments, and admits it’s crucial the Matildas remain disciplined against Brazil’s lethal attack.

“They want to use their individual skills, they like to play when the game is stretched. They are strong in transition. What’s important against them is that we keep to our shape and structure really well and we’re disciplined,” the Matildas boss said.

“We don’t want an open end-to-end game, we want to play our principles and way of playing but we have to be very tactically disciplined.

“The focus comes back on to ourselves. We've discussed a few things. We've analysed them and we're confident that we're going to come up with a plan to put on a positive performance.”

In-form striker Cristiane – who scored a hat-trick against Jamaica – and six-time world player of the year Marta loom as the danger players to the Matildas defence.

"I've played against Marta a lot. I've played with her too. Both are players individually full of flair and skill, they can turn it on at any point,” Catley said.

“It’s just being switched on at all times and lots of communication throughout the whole field and especially along the backline. We’ll do our best.”

Steph Catley will be key to shutting down Brazil's star-studded attack
Steph Catley will be key to shutting down Brazil's star-studded attack

Positive reaction to Italy result

The pressure is on the Matildas to respond from the opening game defeat to Italy, with a positive result needed to boost their hopes of progression to the knockout phase.

With their backs to the wall, Catley is expecting a response from her teammates.

"There's a feeling you get when you lose a game like that and if anything it just fires you up more," Catley said.

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"It really lights something inside the team to kind of make sure that doesn't happen again.

"The reaction you get from it can be very strong and I think in our group there's definitely a vibe that we'll have a strong reaction against Brazil.”

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