Matildas brace for Perth ‘frenzy’ over hometown hero Kerr

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Emily van Egmond gets recognised on the street a lot these days. The midfielder is, after all, fourth on the Matildas’ all-time appearances list and was on the pitch for some of the big World Cup moments barely three months ago.

She is anticipating a similar experience over the next 10 days, when Australia’s favourite sporting team returns to action for the first time since their famous World Cup semi-final run broke all kinds of viewership records.

But she expects it will have nothing on the number of photo and autograph requests set to come the way of her long-time teammate and friend, Sam Kerr, once the striker lands in her hometown on Tuesday.

“I dare say when Sam Kerr lands there’s going to be a frenzy for her, so I won’t be walking with her to any coffee shops,” van Egmond laughed on Monday at WA State Football Centre, where the Matildas are preparing for a run of three crucial Olympic qualifiers.

“But the public has been amazing. I think there started to be a switch a few years prior to that [the World Cup]. Sam’s a global superstar now, so that obviously helps.

“But off the back of the World Cup success, it’s been pivotal to the change. But for the better, in my opinion, and I hope it just continues to go that way … we’re all just as excited as everyone else to be here at home.”

The last time the Matildas played in Perth was in 2018, when a crowd of 7,549 watched Alen Stajcic’s side defeat Thailand 5-0 at HBF Park, then called nib Stadium. Five years later, the 20,500-capacity venue has been sold out twice, for the October 26 and November 1 matches against world No.63 Iran and world No.38 Taiwan respectively.

Emily van Egmond with Sam Kerr during the Matildas’ World Cup quarter-final win over France in Brisbane.Credit: Reuters

So high was the interest that the October 29 fixture, against the 44th-ranked Philippines, was moved to Optus Stadium. Now, virtually all the 59,000 available seats there have sold out too, meaning a combined 100,000 will turn out to the three games.

“If you would’ve asked us five years if we thought that was going to be possible, I don’t think anyone would’ve said yes,” said Egmond, who was on the pitch that day in 2008 alongside many others in the current squad.

“But the fact that we’re sitting here now five years on, it’s amazing. And the fact that young girls always get to come out on our home soil is great.”

The Matildas, who must top their group to be guaranteed passage to the third and final phase of Paris 2024 qualifying in February, have been busy at club level in the three months since they defied expectations to reach the final four of a World Cup finals for the first time.

Van Egmond herself has won the National Women’s Soccer League Shield with San Diego Wave in the United States. Kerr provided two assists over the weekend to help Chelsea beat Brighton and move joint top of the English Women’s Super League, alongside Mary Fowler’s and Alanna Kennedy’s Manchester City.

France penalty shootout hero Mackenzie Arnold is now captain of West Ham and Kyra Cooney-Cross has joined Matildas vice-captain Steph Catley and forward Caitlin Foord at Arsenal.

The European-based players are due to trickle into Tony Gustavsson’s camp over the next 24 hours, with Kerr and Arnold set to land in the very early hours of Tuesday and then join training from Wednesday ahead of Thursday’s Iran match.

Already in Perth with van Egmond are Cortnee Vine, Tameka Yallop, Ellie Carpenter and Alex Chidiac, who trained together on Monday.

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