The Matildas are through to the knockout stages of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup after a massive 4-0 win against Canada. KEEPUP’s Teo Pellizzeri & David Davutovic are joined by Matilda and Liberty A-League star Ella Mastrantonio to analyse the huge victory on the Dub At The Cup podcast. Listen wherever you get your podcasts!

If there was an award for the Matildas Most Valuable Player of the Women’s World Cup group stage, then Steph Catley would be a hot favourite to take it home.

Catley has been one of the Matildas best throughout their opening three games, but it was her performance in their do-or-die clash with Canada which particularly stood out.

The Arsenal full-back thrived playing in her home state, forging an incredible partnership up-and-down the left flank with club teammate Caitlin Foord throughout their 4-0 win at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium.

Catley – who has stood in as captain in Sam Kerr’s absence – helped played a key role in Hayley Raso’s opener, before stepping up and burying a penalty in second-half stoppage time to round out the win as the Aussies secured their place in the Round of 16 as the top side in Group B.

But long before she was dominating on the world stage, Catley was finding her feet in the same city as a teenager, when she emerged on the scene with Melbourne Victory back in 2010.

In the eyes of her former Victory teammate Ella Mastrantonio, Catley was always destined to make it to the highest level.

“I first played with her at Melbourne Victory in the 2010-11 season, and I think she was probably 16 years old,” Mastrantonio said on the latest episode of KEEPUP’s Dub at the Cup podcast.

“You can just tell she just has that presence about her and that composure, even back then as a 16-year-old, and I knew that she was going to go on to bigger and better things.

“To see her captaining our country is pretty special, and playing for a world class team like Arsenal. We kind of always knew that about Steph, that she would kind of go to those kind of places.

“It’s just incredible. She’s a good person, so she definitely deserves it.”

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SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 09: Hannah Beard of the Wanderers is defended by Ella Mastrantonio and Stephanie Catley of the Victory during the round nine W-League match between Western Sydney and Melbourne at Marconi Stadium on November 9, 2014 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Renee McKay/Getty Images)
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Ella Mastrantonio (left) and Steph Catley (right) playing together while at Melbourne Victory

During her first stint at Victory, Catley quickly became a regular, helping them win the A-League Women’s Championship in 2014, while also winning the league’s Young Player of the Year award in 2013 and the FFA Female U20 Footballer of the Year in 2013 and 2014.

This came in and around the time she became a Matilda, earning her maiden cap in 2012.

Mastrantonio felt that Catley’s maturity, coupled with Victory’s environment which boasted a host of Matildas including the former, helped her flourish throughout her formative years.

“You could see she was mature beyond her years… and being a 16-year-old playing first grade football or senior football at that age, you kind of do have to learn to grow up quite quickly and learn off the good players that you have around you,” she said.

“Back then, we had a very good team as well.

“Also I think being, in Melbourne, there was always a big group of players, high quality players that came through the Matildas and that kind of stuff.

“So she obviously learned from them… I think a little bit of it sometimes can be luck as well, but also her hard work. She’s always been the top professional, even since she was 16 years old.

“As long as you keep doing that every single day, you reap the rewards.”

A window into Gustavsson’s methodology

Mastrantonio is no stranger to Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson’s coaching ideologies, having played under him in the national team setup before.

The Perth Glory midfielder played under the Swedish coach early in his tenure, last featuring for the Matildas in a 5-0 defeat to the Netherlands in April 2021.

Mastrantonio gave a bit of an insight into what it was like working under the Matildas boss and the methodologies he looked to engrain in the side when Gustavsson first arrived.

“When I went to that camp there, he really emphasised that he wanted to try to be the best pressing team in the world,” she said.

“You’ve seen a different kind of Matildas for these group stage games, maybe a bit more compact, a bit more rigid in the defensive line.

“Obviously there has been a little bit of a change and growth from there. That’s kind of what I took away from that camp, and how he wanted to play.”

Who do the Matildas want in the knockout stage?

Australia will find out their Round of 16 fate on Tuesday night when the remainder of Group D’s fixtures are played out in Adelaide and Perth.

Each of the four sides – England, Denmark, China and Haiti – are all still possible opponents for the Matildas, with the side that finishes in second being Australia’s opponent next Monday night at Stadium Australia.

“They’re all different types of teams, obviously England being a clear favourite, (and there’s) Denmark, China and still Haiti,” Mastrantonio said.

“Do they really care if they can put on another performance like that? I don’t think so.

“Now, if they can back that up and repeat the same performance, and then who knows what can happen after that.”

Fowler shines brightest in return to starting XI

Mary Fowler was on a mission on Monday night.

The Matildas young-gun returned to the starting XI after missing the Nigeria game with a bout of concussion, and slotted into the front-line seamlessly, putting in one of, if not, her best showing in an Aussie jersey.

She capped off her scintillating performance with a goal, tapping home Australia’s third, but could have easily had two for the night, had it not been for the offside flag.

“I think so,” Mastrantonio said when asked by Pellizzeri whether it was her best Matildas performance so far.

“She obviously took her a couple of chances when she did. The actual goal that went in was kind of a scruffy one, but I think she’ll take it.

“First half, she didn’t really have too many touches on the ball wasn’t really involved, but good strikers and good finishers, they don’t always have to be involved. They always just have to be jogging on the spot, as they say.”

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – JULY 31: Tony Gustavsson, Head Coach of Australia, instructs Mary Fowler during the FIFA Women’s World Cup Australia & New Zealand 2023 Group B match between Canada and Australia at Melbourne Rectangular Stadium on July 31, 2023 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)
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Mastrantonio is no stranger to Fowler’s abilities, having played alongside her at Matildas level previously.

“The first thing I noticed straight away, she could pretty much finish any kind of ball that she that got to her,” Mastrantonio said.

“Every shooting drill or every shooting practise or whatever in the game, she would always put them away, and I was like: ‘wow, I haven’t seen a natural kind of finisher like that in a long time’.

“Off the field, she’s a lovely girl, very driven, very professional… Credit to her, she’s come a long way in quite a short period.”