While Australia continues to bask in the afterglow of the 2023 Women's World Cup -- and especially the historic run of the Matildas -- preparations are already well underway for the next major tournament: The 2023 Paris Olympics.
While home and away matches against Uzbekistan in February 2024 are still to come and will decide if the Matildas have indeed qualified for the tournament, it's never too early to start looking at a potential Olympic squad. This Matildas Big Board will follow the same rules as the World Cup edition, with the squad split into four positions: Goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders, and forwards. Within these sections lie another three categories.
First up, the locks. These are the players whose inclusion you wouldn't bat an eyelid at; it's assumed they will be picked. And if the tournament was brought forward to next week, these are the players who would make the hypothetical plane and could play in a hypothetical opening game.
Secondly, are those players who are in the conversation. These are the players who don't have the certainty of the locks but, for a number of reasons, are well within their rights to be part of the discussion. They aren't certainties right now because of injuries but could be elevated to locks later. Similarly, a lack of form at the moment, or being the second choice for a key position means they are not yet a lock but not out of the picture. Some will make the final squad and some won't.
Finally, we have the bolters. A-League Women coaches and fans alike have already begun their respective campaigns to push their favourite players into the national conversation around the Matildas squad. These are the players on the fringe, those who haven't been called up in a while, or haven't been called up at all, but still represent a somewhat realistic option going forward.
Movement between these categories is to be expected over the next eight months. However, unlike the World Cup Big Board, Olympic squad sizes are much smaller. At the moment, nations are allowed to selected 18 players, with four alternates able to be called in for injuries. This big board will deal with the 18 selected players.
Teagan Micah, Mackenzie Arnold, Clare Hunt, Ellie Carpenter, Charli Grant, Alanna Kennedy, Courtney Nevin, Steph Catley, Katrina Gorry, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Tameka Yallop, Emily van Egmond, Clare Wheeler, Sam Kerr, Caitlin Foord, Hayley Raso, Mary Fowler, Holly McNamara
Locks: Mackenzie Arnold, Teagan Micah
A stunning World Cup has cemented Mackenzie Arnold as Australia's No. 1. While all three goalkeepers got a run during the recent Olympic qualifiers, the actual Olympic squad calls for two goalkeepers and Liverpool's Teagan Micah gets the call up in this big board.
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However, her lack of game time at the moment but could be a catalyst for change later down the track.
In the conversation: Lydia Williams
This brings us to the goalkeeper in the conversation. Melbourne Victory shotstopper Lydia Williams is the unlucky one from the World Cup squad to be bumped out but a solid season in the A-League Women could change this.
Bolters: Jada Whyman
Of late, Jada Whyman has been the fourth goalkeeper with call ups to camps and a general fringe presence. The Sydney FC custodian has recently earned some international experience at club level in the AFC Women's Club Championship.
Locks: Alanna Kennedy, Steph Catley, Charli Grant, Courtney Nevin, Ellie Carpenter, Clare Hunt
Australia's first choice back four consists of Ellie Carpenter on the right, Steph Catley on the left, and Alanna Kennedy and Clare Hunt in the middle. Barring long term injuries (knock on wood) this should not change. Charli Grant continues to show off her versatility by being utilised on both flanks and Courtney Nevin has shown she can also play across positions in the backline and can offer another option over a set piece.
In the conversation: Clare Polkinghorne, Charlie Rule
Clare Polkinghorne drops from the squad after her reduced playing time during the Olympic qualifiers but is still one of Australia's best defenders, thus she is still in the conversation. Charlie Rule immediately comes into contention after being called into the most recent squad as a train-on player.
Bolters: Charlotte McLean, Aivi Luik,
Charlotte McLean is currently being thrust into more of a leadership position, both literally and metaphorically, for Sydney FC after captain and fellow centre-back Nat Tobin ruptured her ACL. If she can rise to the occasion she is one to watch. Aivi Luik has been Tony Gustavsson's go-to defender which means she is never really out of contention.
Locks: Katrina Gorry, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Tameka Yallop, Emily van Egmond, Clare Wheeler
Katrina Gorry and Kyra Cooney-Cross are the undisputed first choice midfielders for Gustavsson. The issue becomes finding players who can do the same role to allow the duo a break. Emily van Egmond is regularly the first cab off the bench and offers a different choice further up the mark, Tameka Yallop's versatility makes her a invaluable inclusion, and Clare Wheeler's performances in the Olympic qualifiers have given Gustavsson plenty to think about when it comes to options that aren't Gorry or Cooney-Cross.
In the conversation: Amy Sayer, Alex Chidiac, Chloe Logarzo
Amy Sayer and Alex Chidiac are victims of the small squad size. Chidiac, a fan favourite, didn't take the opportunity afforded to her in the Olympic qualifiers but some regular game time for Tigres in Mexico can shoot her right back into contention. Sayer impressed in the Olympic qualifiers and if she can back it up in the following windows, she should move up. Chloe Logarzo has had a rotten injury run but at her best offers plenty of grunt and running in the midfield. If she can keep a clean bill of health and build her minutes for Western United, she could also give Gustavsson a selection headache.
Bolters: Rhianna Pollicina
A current star of the ALW, Rhianna Pollicina is consistently one of the silkiest operators in the league and has the ability to set up goals and score them, whether or not she can get a look in is the real question.
Locks: Sam Kerr, Caitlin Foord, Hayley Raso, Mary Fowler, Holly McNamara
The core attackers all make this squad with Sam Kerr, Caitlin Foord, and Mary Fowler all starting for Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester City respectively. Hayley Raso's game time is less consistent but she's been able to come off the bench and find the back of the net. Holly McNamara is the odd one out in terms of recent Matildas appearances but the Melbourne City winger is arguably the best player in the ALW at the moment and would add speed and a keen eye for a goal.
In the conversation: Cortnee Vine, Remy Siemsen
Cortnee Vine's hamstring injury means she is no longer a lock. However, a smooth recovery and a return to form for Sydney will bump her right back up. Not dissimilarly, Remy Siemsen is working back from an injury for Leicester and if she can find some goals, she will be in contention.
Bolters: Susan Phonsongkham
Looking closer to home, Susan Phonsongkham has scored in every game for ladder leaders Perth Glory and if she can continue this form, she may well get a look in to a Matildas camp sooner rather than later.