Gunning for glory: The club act that kept Matildas in the game

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Gunning for glory: The club act that kept Matildas in the game

By Emma Kemp

Five months ago, Arsenal won the FA Women’s League Cup. They saw off Sam Kerr’s Chelsea 3-1 in March’s final. Kerr scored within two minutes before the north Londoners ran away with it. The other Australian names that stood out at Selhurst Park that day were the Gunners’ left-back Steph Catley and left winger Caitlin Foord.

Catley effectively marked Chelsea’s rising star Lauren James – who has been nearly unplayable for England at this World Cup – out of the game. For her part, Foord ran opposition defenders ragged and was unlucky not to win a penalty in the absence of VAR technology.

But there was something else behind the duo’s eye-catching outing: they were a pair in the truest sense. A left-hand connection described as “telepathic”, and one from which the Matildas are very much benefiting.

In Monday’s 4-0 thumping of Canada, their combination on the left was a picture of intelligence and trickery, bullying Bev Priestman’s reigning Olympic gold medallists out of the game.

In the absence of the injured Kerr, coach Tony Gustavsson started the returning Mary Fowler and Emily van Egmond more centrally, and moved Foord to the left.

“Caitlin and Steph have a unique relationship and understanding when they play together – so do Caitlin and Sam when they play up top,” Gustavsson said afterwards.

Caitlin Foord (left) and Steph Catley after their League Cup triumph with Arsenal in March.

Caitlin Foord (left) and Steph Catley after their League Cup triumph with Arsenal in March.Credit: Getty

“Caitlin has been really good as a forward, especially when pairing up with Sam with those combination plays. We felt we wanted to invest in the left-side combination, but also because both Mary [Fowler] and EvE [van Egmond] have been really good in, if we talk tactical terms, false nines. So we played a little bit different.”

It was an inspired move which yielded Catley’s signature overlapping runs and Foord’s portentous excellence every time she touched the ball, to the point that, had it not been for Hayley Raso’s brace, the latter might well have been named player of the match.


The double act, which dates back more than a decade and has blossomed since both joined Arsenal in 2020, has been on ice at the Matildas the past nine months, during which Foord has played more centrally alongside Kerr.

That in itself is a long-term partnership, reaping vast rewards for the Matildas in their pre-World Cup winning streak. But it was also a breath of fresh air to witness the full ferocity of Foord back on the left, releasing Catley to swing in the cross for Raso’s opener and then using a Catley ball to provide the cutback for Fowler’s goal.

Catley and Foord joking around at training just before the World Cup.

Catley and Foord joking around at training just before the World Cup.Credit: Getty

“Obviously, with Sam out of the picture, Caitlin is versatile,” Catley said afterwards. “It’s one of her strengths. She can play nine, she can play 10 – she can play probably centre-back. She’s everywhere. I personally love it when she’s on the left. We know each other so well, we don’t even have to think.”

Foord described the combo as “natural”.

“We play a lot of football together,” Foord said. “It’s a bit of a comfort zone, so it was natural. As soon as we got out there, we were just excited to share that connection we have and make things happen.”

How Gustavsson decides to deploy his XI in Australia’s round-of-16 meeting with Denmark on Monday night is anyone’s guess, particularly given Kerr may return in some role or other.

If the skipper’s calf has recovered only enough for a few minutes off the bench, he may opt once more for the dynamic duo.

Arsenal assistant coach Aaron D’Antino described Foord as “phenomenal”. She scored six goals and provided eight assists for the Gunners in the last Women’s Super League season – a women’s club record for number of goal involvements in a single season.

D’Antino, who is also Australian, said before the tournament the “interesting part” would be how to get the best out of the 28-year-old at her fourth World Cup.


“Obviously, Australia are tinkering with how they play her,” D’Antino told website Keep Up last month. “Playing her more central sometimes as opposed to out wide, that just opens up a whole new world with how you defend Caitlin Foord.

“And if you have Steph supplying her, that’s a huge part for us in terms of their partnership. That goes years beyond us. It’s almost telepathic – they know what they need from each other before it even happens.”

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