Sam Kerr makes highly-anticipated return as Australia rolls

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And in the 79th minute of Australia’s fourth World Cup match, Sam Kerr finally made her triumphant debut.

The Matildas already had a 2-0 victory over Denmark in hand, so it was a little surprising that coach Tony Gustavsson would sub his previously injured captain on.

But he did, and she ran onto the pitch to a roaring crowd of roughly 80,000 fans packed into Stadium Australia on a crisp Monday night. She wore a smile that took up her whole face and high-fived every teammate she passed.

In the 87th minute, she nearly had a scoring chance, zipping down the field as if to say, “What calf injury?”

‘This is only the beginning, we’ve got much more to give’ — Sam Kerr on Australia’s 2-0 win over Denmark

'This is only the beginning, we've got much more to give' — Sam Kerr on Australia's 2-0 win over Denmark

The 29-year-old superstar had missed the Matildas’ entire group stage after sustaining a calf injury in training on the eve of the World Cup opening match against Ireland on July 20. The team announced she would not play in the first two matches, but then it became a third match and what was thought to be a fourth.

Kerr started the round of 16 match against Denmark on the bench, and it didn’t appear Australia would need her to clinch this critical win. That’s because this squad is proving to be quite formidable and deep as the tournament progresses.

In the 29th minute, 20-year-old Mary Fowler slipped a superb pass that beat five defenders to find Caitlin Foord sprinting down the left wing. Foord took one touch before scoring her first goal of this World Cup.

Caitlin Foord’s GO-AHEAD goal for Australia vs. Denmark | Every Angle

Caitlin Foord's GO-AHEAD goal for Australia vs. Denmark | Every Angle

Cameras quickly shifted from Foord’s celebration to Kerr dancing on the bench in her warmups and substitute penny. The crowd went wild. Later, just a few minutes before halftime, Kerr appeared on the videoboard and the home fans erupted again. 

Kerr didn’t warm up before the match and there was an air of mystery around her injury in the lead up. Was this injury more serious than the team was letting on? Then Kerr started moving around on the sideline in the 69th minute with Australia leading 1-0. That was also when Fowler created more magic, chipping the ball while already inside the box to Emily van Egmond, who made the extra pass to Hayley Raso who blasted home another goal to go up 2-0.

Australia’s Hayley Raso scores goal vs. Denmark in 71′ | 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup

Australia's Hayley Raso scores goal vs. Denmark in 71' | 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup

There was no way Gustavsson would put Kerr in now, right? Sure, fans were anxious to see her play – she is the Matildas’ captain and has been for years. She’s arguably — or perhaps not so arguably — the most dominant striker in the world. She’s the face of Australia soccer and recently became the first woman ever to grace the cover of “FIFA 23,” alongside France star Kylian Mbappe.

Here in Australia, she’s on billboards, the sides of buses and in deodorant ads. She has been everywhere, just not yet on a World Cup pitch.

But Kerr took off her warmups and earned a solid 15 minutes, which is some good fortune for the Matildas because competition is about to heat up. In beating Denmark, Australia is guaranteed a spot in the quarterfinal where it will face the winner of Tuesday’s showdown between France and Morocco.

Australia was already looking in sync without Kerr. Now that she’s back and seemingly fit and healthy, the Matildas could be poised to make a historic run.

Australia’s Sam Kerr checks in for the first time in the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup

Australia's Sam Kerr checks in for the first time in the 2023 FIFA Women's World Cup

Laken Litman covers college football, college basketball and soccer for FOX Sports. She previously wrote for Sports Illustrated, USA Today and The Indianapolis Star. She is the author of “Strong Like a Woman,” published in spring 2022 to mark the 50th anniversary of Title IX. Follow her on Twitter @LakenLitman.

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Samantha Kerr

Australia

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