Australia's offense led by prolific scorer Sam Kerr
NICE, France (AP) — Australia's strategy of using an aggressive offense to compensate for the defense has certainly gotten a boost from Matildas star Sam Kerr.
Kerr is tied with American Alex Morgan for the Women's World Cup lead with five goals, four of which came in Australia's 4-1 victory over Jamaica that put the Matildas into the knockout rounds.
Coach Ante Milicic is fully aware of how important his back-flipping global superstar captain is to the team but he was also keen to stress that he will be counting on all his players if the Matildas are to avoid a fourth straight quarterfinal elimination.
"Sam's our captain and a very important player for us but at the same time we work as a team together and our playing style in principle is about all 11 players being involved with and without the ball," Milicic said. "We're delighted that we have as fantastic an individual as Sam in our squad to lead the team but at the same time we understand that to go deep in this tournament all 23 players are equally important."
Next up for Australia is the opening round of 16 game on Saturday against Norway in Nice.
Norway defender Ingrid Moe Wold has singled Kerr out as the player who will give her and her teammates the biggest test.
"She's shown quality for a long time and she is also a strong leader. She's been very, very good," Wold said Friday.
Norway has allowed three goals during this tournament with goalkeeper Ingrid Hjelmseth showing she remains agile at age 39. Coach Martin Sjogren is confident his team can even keep Kerr quiet.
"We're prepared defensively and we've been doing good so far," he said. "We have a huge respect for how they play. But we have also a very good belief in our own defense.
"Australia is a very offensive playing team and they have very good players and strong players but maybe they're not so strong in their defense. They score a lot but they also let in quite a few goals."
Australia has scored eight goals, more than any other team except from the United States. However, it has also allowed five, more than any other team that finished in the top two in the group stage.
Kerr's goals have taken the attention away from Australia's weakness at the back.
Milicic acknowledges his team is noticeably stronger on the attack but says they will not change their style.
"It's a fair summary," he said when asked about Sjogren's comments on Australia's defense. "And that's why we keep working on our attacking style and we keep the ball longer and we're more patient.
"That's the best way to defend, by keeping the ball longer. We'll continue to be brave and play our way of football."
That worked for Australia the last time the two teams met, a 4-3 victory by the Matildas in in 2018.