The striker scored five in an 18-0 Asian Cup win over Indonesia to cement her status as a great of the Australian game
All things considered, the Matildas’ 18-0 destruction of Indonesia provided a somewhat anticlimactic stage for Sam Kerr to etch herself into the record books as the greatest goalscorer in Australian history.
When it comes to points of historical significance, there is generally a romantic desire for a scene you could slap an orchestral score on – circumstances that help contribute to the mythology surrounding the achievement.
Entering the opening game of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup requiring a single goal to pull alongside Tim Cahill’s 50 atop the national team’s all-time charts, Kerr needed just 11 minutes to match and subsequently surpass the Socceroos great’s tally.
With no fans in the stands due to Covid restrictions, and no real resistance in front of her, Australian football’s golden girl went on to net a further three before her 68th-minute substitution, taking her four clear of Cahill on 54 goals.
Her teammates proved equally merciless: Emily van Egmond hit a hat-trick; Hayley Raso, Ellie Carpenter and Kyah Simon struck twice; and Caitlin Foord, Mary Fowler, Tameka Yallop and Aivi Luik all added individual strikes. It was all a bit too easy.
Yet Kerr’s record – and what she has accomplished in a career that has many more chapters still to write - is truly remarkable.
She reached the milestone in four fewer games than Cahill and, unlike the former Everton attacker, spent much of her formative years juggling careers in multiple leagues in different countries with an intense international schedule just to commit full-time to the sport.
Kerr’s talent eventually saw her become the first marquee player in A-League Women history. During that time, the Matildas secured a number of improvements in working conditions and it is without question that she and her teammates effectively dragged the Australian system with them.
Now she is the greatest goalscorer in her country’s history and one of its most famous and celebrated athletes. Just days out from the start of the Cup, Fifa recognised the striker as the second best player in the game or, to put it another way, declared that of the 3.9 billion women on the planet, just one – Spain’s Alexia Putellas – is better at playing football than the 28-year-old from East Fremantle.
It is quite possible that had Kerr been afforded the same level of professionalism and opportunities for development as her male counterparts, she would have surpassed Cahill a long time ago. It took just over seven years – 2,627 days – for her to reach double-figures after scoring her first international goal at the 2010 Asian Cup. In the four and a half years since, she has scored 42.
A portion of this is undoubtedly down to her status as her team’s talisman – a challenge for coach Tony Gustavsson to balance with the broader Matildas’ collective – but the improvements in working conditions for female footballers on- and off-field during this period cannot be ignored. It is both remarkable and a warning to Australian football not to rest on its laurels that had there been options for her to keep playing with girls as a child — as exists now — she likely would have followed her family to AFL football.
— FIFA Women's World Cup (@FIFAWWC) January 21, 2022
Kerr’s exploits aside, there is little to be extrapolated from the Matildas’ opening outing in India. It was a procession for the Australians, a 90-minute training drill that provided less challenge than the intra-squad scrimmages in their pre-tournament training camp.
A number of Indonesian players sought photos with Kerr after the game – clear recognition of her stature in the game and symbolic of how she and her teammates effectively operate on a different plane to some of their continental rivals.
Nonetheless, in deploying a high-powered starting XI against a nation 91 places below Australia in the Fifa rankings, Gustavsson was clearly trying to start with a bang. After the match, he said the fixture represented an opportunity to “set the tone” for what is to come and hinted that a ruthless approach, even against such minnows, will be a feature of his side’s “performance mode”.
“I’ve been in a similar situation before as a coach going into a tournament when you have a low-ranked team in the opening game and how important it is to treat that team with respect but also show respect to our values and our standards,” he said.
“The other thing we need to remember is an international team and don’t get many minutes together. Pre-camp has been very short leading into this one. We have some players coming back from different situations that actually need minutes to get up and running
“So there are different reasons but the number one reason is that we need that cohesion between the players and get off on a good start to send some messages to ourselves and to the other ones how we are treating this tournament.”