Arsenal's Lydia Williams leads alternate Matildas squad for Portugal, Spain friendlies

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The Matildas will field an almost unrecognisable lineup for upcoming friendlies against Spain and Portugal after coach Tony Gustavsson named a 24-player squad on Monday absent a score of his side's highest-profile names.

Arriving just weeks after the conclusion of their domestic campaigns, the Matildas' boss has opted not to call in England-based captain Sam Kerr, vice-captain Steph Catley, Caitlin Foord, Alanna Kennedy, Hayley Raso, and Kyah Simon for the June 26 game against Spain and June 28 contest with Portugal, with Montpellier's Mary Fowler and Pomigliano's Aivi Luik also not named.

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Lyon defender Ellie Carpenter will also be unavailable after the 22-year-old suffered an ACL injury in her side's Champions League win over Barcelona.

It means that while core senior players Lydia Williams, Emily Gielnik, Tameka Yallop, Clare Polkinghorne, Emily van Egmond and Katrina Gorry all feature, they will be surrounded by a number of fringe players and raw prospects for the clashes with a pair of teams getting ready for the 2022 Women's Euro this summer (stream live on ESPN+ from July 6-31).

Gustavsson said that a long-term rationale had been adopted in selecting its 24 members and that a proactive stance had been taken surrounding the fitness of players.

"Selection for this June squad has been based on a combination of factors, but ultimately it has been about individualising player programs with a long-term view," Gustavsson said. "In preparing the specialised plans, we have evaluated where the players currently are and where they will need to be and determined the best course of action for each player.

"For some players, this has meant being a part of these invaluable matches with Spain and Portugal, providing a chance to demonstrate how they can make our team stronger. For another cohort, it results in being proactive around recurring ailments and re-establishing a fitness baseline without the need to focus on peaking for matches."

Gustavsson's comments echo the sentiments of Football Australia's head of sports science for their women's teams Jack Sharkey, who told ESPN that there was a need to manage the load of players that had just absorbed a gruelling domestic season interspersed with numerous trips around the world for international duty.

"With this upcoming camp, it's important to look at the long-term picture of how we actually peak for a World Cup next year," Sharkey said. "There is increasing evidence to show that if you continue to keep pushing and pushing and pushing, further down the line you're going to pay a price for that. So it's important to look at the longitudinal load, what they've done in the last two or three years and say whether this is the right time to take a break."

Sydney FC duo Mackenzie Hawkesby and Taylor Ray have been tapped to take part in what will be their first-ever Matildas camp, as has Adelaide United defender Matilda McNamara. Previously a part of squads without seeing minutes, Winonah Heatley and Jacynta Galabadaarachchi will be given their chance at a senior international bow.

Fortuna Hjorring defender Angela Beard returns to the squad with an opportunity to press a case for consistent selection -- her versatility a welcome addition to a backline facing questions even before injuries and rotations entered the equation -- and is joined by her club teammate Clare Wheeler. After her initial absence from the previous Matildas' squad sparked controversy, Alex Chidiac won't have to wait for an injury to earn a spot and she's joined by, among others, returnees Cortnee Vine, Courtney Nevin and Remy Siemsen.

"This upcoming camp and international window is a big opportunity for many players in the squad selected," said Gustavsson. "I am excited to see the group in action and witness how we can rise to the challenge as a team and as individuals.

"Spain and Portugal are quality nations in the final stages of their preparations for one of the biggest trophies in women's football and they will be a tough challenge in many aspects of the game."

After making just two changes -- both due to injury -- from the squad that was bundled out of the quarterfinals of January's Asian Cup for April games against New Zealand, Gustavsson's latest selection, his first without Kerr, is a big deviation from the norm during his tenure.

Though undoubtedly influenced by the injury and fitness-enforced absences, a number of the squad are presently playing in their local NPL Women's competitions. This is despite the Swede rhetorically asking players that hadn't signed with overseas clubs at the end of the A-League Women season "if they are stuck here from now up until the next elite season what kind of development environment are they going to be in?" and flagging that there will be less rotation in squads moving forward.

There is also no spot for European-based players such as Beattie Goad, Jenna McCormick, and Melina Ayres. A teammate of Beard and Wheeler at Fortuna and also eligible for New Zealand, Indi Paige-Riley is absent, but has posted on social media of the need to heal an ankle injury. Recently returning from injury, Kyra Cooney-Cross will continue to ease back into football with Swedish club side Hammarby.

After falling well short of expectations on both results and performance at the Asian Cup, the looming friendlies against Spain and Portugal represent an important opportunity for the Matildas to build upon the foundations that were laid in the games against New Zealand.

Looking beyond the final scorelines, those two wins, highlighted by the deployment of Gorry in the midfield, featured some of the most cohesive and purposeful football that Gustavsson's squad has been able to produce in his tenure. The results have eased the increasing pressure he found himself under as concerns over the trajectory of his squad ahead of a home World Cup mounted.

Spain, who feature 2021 Ballon d'Or winner Alexia Putellas, are ranked seventh in the world and loom as one of the favourites for not just the Euros, but also next year's World Cup. Slightly less-heralded -- their place at the Euros only confirmed in the wake of Russia's suspension by UEFA following the illegal invasion of Ukraine -- Portugal is ranked 29th in the world.

Full Matildas Squad:

Goalkeepers: Mackenzie Arnold, Teagan Micah, Lydia Williams

Defenders: Angela Beard, Charlotte Grant, Winonah Heatley, Matilda McNamara, Courtney Nevin, Clare Polkinghorne

Midfielders: Alex Chidiac, Katrina Gorry, Mackenzie Hawkesby, Taylor Ray, Amy Sayer, Emily van Egmond, Clare Wheeler, Tameka Yallop

Forwards: Larissa Crummer, Jacynta Galabadaarachchi, Emily Gielnik, Princess Ibini, Rachel Lowe, Remy Siemsen, Cortnee Vine