Matildas to benefit from latest Olympic qualifier changes

The Matildas' Olympics qualifiers have been shifted again as the world grapples with the coronavirus epidemic - but coach Ante Milicic has revealed what could be a major silver lining.

With star striker Sam Kerr battling a quad strain, the extra days afforded by the delay to Australia's games gives captain Kerr the chance to be fit to lead her side's quest for a place at the Olympics.

With government measures to tackle the coronavirus altering almost daily, the Matildas will now kick off their games in the qualifying tournament on Friday, facing Chinese Taipei at Campbelltown Stadium.

The following Monday Milicic's side will host Thailand at the same venue, before moving to Bankwest Stadium in Parramatta to play the last - and potentially decisive - game of the group against China.

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Matildas striker Sam Kerr is battling a thigh strain.
Matildas striker Sam Kerr is battling a thigh strain.

Currently scheduled for Wednesday February 12, the game could be put back 24 hours to the Thursday to allow both sides another day of recovery, but only if European clubs including Chelsea, Arsenal and Bayern Munich agree to their Australians staying in Sydney for an extra day.

A resolution on that is expected within the next 48 hours, as FFA officials grapple with the sporting logistics of such a unique global crisis.

Changes to government policy on Saturday mean the Chinese women's team, currently held in isolation in Brisbane, cannot now leave their hotel to train until the isolation period ends on Wednesday.

The team is expected to fly to Sydney the following day, forcing FFA to move a double-header of games from Thursday to Friday.

The constant changes have proved hugely challenging for Milicic's staff, planning training loads and trying to keep the players' mentally stimulated.

But the extra time has aided Kerr's recovery from a muscle injury that has already forced her to miss a game for Chelsea.

The Matildas have trained in Sydney ahead of their Olympic qualifiers.
The Matildas have trained in Sydney ahead of their Olympic qualifiers.

"Sam's not at full training but she's making good progress every day," Milicic said. "She played against Arsenal on the 20th, came off and missed the next game.

"She's delighted to be back here in the sun and our medical staff know her body better than anyone. She brings a good presence around the group.

"We're pleased with her progress but at the same time there's player welfare involved and we won't risk not only Sam but any other player.

"We have a duty of care when players come to us in the national team, they must go back to their clubs in an appropriate state. But the extra days have worked in her favour and ours."

The quicksand of diplomacy and evolving government policy facing Football Federation Australia can be seen in the fact that Sydney FC and Perth Glory's Asian Champions League games next week cannot now be played in Australia, due to the government's ban on non-citizens travelling from or transiting through China to Australia.

Asian football chiefs will hold an emergency meeting on Tuesday to work out what that means for the ACL. Those first games are likely to be postponed but there is a small chance they could be played on neutral territory.



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