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Tokyo Olympics: Gustavsson hails captain Kerr after Australia win

Tokyo: Australia women’s national team boss Tony Gustavsson has praised his side’s captain and star striker Sam Kerr after she starred in a 2-1 victory over New Zealand in their opening Tokyo Olympics match on Wednesday.

After scoring four goals and earning no wins in their five friendly matches under Gustavsson, the Matildas flicked the switch in time for their first competitive outing since qualifying for the tournament in March 2020.

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On a night where they created ample scoring chances, Tameka Butt’s opener and a header from Kerr put Australia 2-0 up before Gabi Rennie pulled back a late consolation goal for New Zealand, and the performance of Kerr, who provided the pass for Butt’s 20th-minute strike was particularly pleasing for their Swedish head coach.

"Not just a goal, an assist as well,” Gustavsson said of Kerr’s night out in Tokyo.

“If you look at that technical action that she did with the assist to (Butt), with a brilliant finish, nice combination play straight from the training park that we’ve worked on as well. That flick that Sam did and the finishing from (Butt) is a beautiful goal, and then the corner with Sam’s technique with her head.

"We've said from day one, it needs to be a collective attack and it was the collective attack that won us this game, but obviously it's good that Sam gets more involved in a game and that's something that we've worked very hard on as well, to get her more on the ball.

"She's a multi-dimensional forward but I don't think she gets enough credit for her pressing game. I think she's one of the best defensive forwards in the world.”

Kerr’s first goal under the new boss was just one the highlights in what was the Matildas' best showing in 2021.

Having experimented with new personnel and tactics in their series of friendlies – which began with punishing defeats to Germany and the Netherlands in April – Australia used their Tokyo bow to unveil what they are building towards, with energy, urgency, pressing and movement off the ball all notable features of a performance which could easily have led to a greater margin of victory.

"One of the headlines we had in the attacking game today was movements off the ball,” Gustavsson declared.

"We knew playing New Zealand is very physical if you play static and they like to get into those duels. You need to move a lot off the ball and play fast, and I think we did that today."

With three crucial points secured against world number 22 New Zealand, the focus now turns to the side representing Gustavsson’s homeland, who Australia will face on Saturday.

Sweden were the headline act of Matchday One, inflicting a shock 3-0 win over world champions the United States and coming into the next clash In Saitama as Group G leaders.

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