A late cameo by Sam Kerr warmed the hearts of Australian fans but it was creative dynamo Mary Fowler given a royal reception in the nation’s media on Tuesday after the Matildas’ despatch of Denmark at the Women’s World Cup.
The 2-0 win over the Danes at a packed Stadium Australia in Sydney on Monday was further proof the Matildas are no one-woman band, a week after thrashing Canada without captain-striker Kerr.
Fowler has been key in the Australians’ advance to the quarter-finals, scoring in the 4-0 win over Canada and laying off passes to set up both the Caitlin Foord and Hayley Raso goals against Denmark.
An Australian has graced Denmark’s royal family for nearly 20 years since Tasmania-born Mary Donaldson married Frederik, the Scandinavian nation’s crown prince.
But 20-year-old Fowler, playing as a false nine, is now soccer royalty in Australia after stepping up in Kerr’s absence.
“Princess Mary Offs Denmark,” read the front-page headline in the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper on Tuesday.
The Australian newspaper elevated Fowler higher.
“Denmark might have Princess Mary but Australia crowned a new queen after a stunning Mary Fowler performance helped the Matildas qualify for the quarter-finals,” Martin Gabor wrote in his match report.
Australia were upset 3-2 by Nigeria in the group stage when both Kerr and Fowler were absent, the latter due to a head-knock at training.
Having both back in action and the support of a home crowd bodes well for the co-hosts’ chances in the tournament.
They next face the winner of France and Morocco.
After sitting out the group phase with a calf injury, Kerr came on as a 78th minute substitute against Denmark, drawing a standing ovation from the 75 000 fans at the stadium.
The rust was evident as she sent a wild cross-field pass into touch but she was soon charging into the box with the ball at her feet to fire a shot over the bar.
Australia has relied too heavily on Kerr’s scoring in the past but Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson reckoned that was no longer the case.
“Not just Sam Kerr – we have multiple options to score goals,” he told reporters.
Striker Foord, who was a constant menace to the Danish defence, said Kerr’s return would give the Matildas’ opponents plenty to think about.
“It helped boost the team even more and I think looking ahead, it’s pretty scary to know that now she’s back on the team and she’s going to be a part of that with us,” she added.