Kerr nears Australia return in last 16 clash with Denmark

SYDNEY (Reuters): Australia captain Sam Kerr has returned to training and expects to make her first Women’s World Cup appearance in Monday’s last 16 tie against Denmark, with coach Tony Gustavsson set to make a late call on whether she starts, and how many minutes she can play.

Kerr, Australia’s all-time leading scorer with 63 goals, injured her left calf on the eve of their World Cup opener against Ireland and sat out all three games in the group stage.

She told Australia’s Channel Nine on Saturday that she “will play” against Denmark, and although coach Gustavsson hinted the striker will play a part, he will leave it late to decide how much she will feature at Stadium Australia.

“We had a nice moment as a team yesterday, to see her back with her boots on and touching the ball and be with the team in training,” Gustavsson said. “It was a very good feeling for her, the players and me.

“She’s a player we’ll talk about tonight to see how many minutes would be suitable, and looking at 90 minutes and potentially extra time, how to get the best out of Sam Kerr in our game plan tomorrow.”

Co-hosts Australia have shown they can win without Kerr, and that they can do so convincingly, having knocked out Olympic champions Canada with a 4-0 rout that sealed their place at the top of Group B.

The Matildas beat Denmark 3-1 in a friendly last October but Gustavsson said he was impressed by their World Cup campaign so far. The Danes, led by captain and star forward Pernille Harder, finished runners-up to England in Group D.

Australia, who reached the quarter-finals at the 2007 World Cup, can equal their best-ever run with a win over Denmark. The winner of Monday’s game will face either France or Morocco.

“We need to be humble and realise that we need to focus on them every single second of the game tomorrow and be as solid defensively as we were against Canada,” Gustavsson said. “They are very organised … they have threats left and right and in very different ways. It’s going to be tough and we need to bring our A game.”