As she prepares for her first Asian Cup, Matildas midfielder Clare Wheeler is soaking up the energy and hoping to make an impact.
With her season in Denmark completed, Wheeler had been home for the Christmas break. Although she looked a certainty for selection by most observers, she was no less thrilled to get the news.
“When I got the news about being selected, I was around family and friends which was really good,” she says of receiving the call.
“It was incredible. I was spending my time in Sydney training on with Sydney FC and to hear the news as well that I’d be joined here with Remy (Siemsen) and Cortnee (Vine) was also really good to hear.
“I guess it’s always something you want to work towards, to represent your country.
“But to go to a tournament is just a whole other level. So, when I got recognized and got the information I was going felt amazing.
“I’m struggling to find words but it was an incredible feeling and I’m so thankful.”
Wheeler was a key performer for Sydney FC last season as they were crowned premiers of the then W-League. Her ability to win the ball and create chances, often in the same passage of play, made her one of the breakout stars in 2020/2021.
Her form earned her a move to Europe with Fortuna Hjørring . After finding her feet at the Champions League club she was in Matildas contention. She is a strong, technical and intelligent midfielder and the side was actively searching for some.
“It’s kind of been a whirlwind,” she says of her rapid rise.
“Being brought into the camp in Ireland pretty much as an injury replacement and then getting called in again in November and then December and now here in January.
“It’s been incredible, and I’ve loved every moment of it and I hope that obviously these last couple of months continue and I’m looking forward to not only AFC (Asian Cup) but I’m looking forward to 2023 making sure that every camp I put my hand up and that I do my best.”
Wheeler’s potential impact on the national team first became apparent in recent friendlies. She was brought on in the second half against a ascendant Brazil midfield and helped Australia wrestle back control.
In the second match against the U.S.A, with The Matildas trailing one-nil and headed for another loss, she changed the match with a brilliant intervention.
Ashley Sanchez had the ball for the Americans and looked to have time. With a perfect tackle, Wheeler won the ball, kept possession and played it to Steph Catley to help set up the equalizing goal for Kyah Simon.
Wheeler’s head was up and looking for the pass before she was even up off the ground. She has a natural ability for the role that could be vital for Australia’s Asian Cup mission.
The rising Matildas star is remaining focused on team success as she is on winning a loose ball. Tony Gustavsson is preparing the side for the tournament and the players understand the importance of success.
“These days are crucial for us to understand the game plan that he has, so when it comes to India, we are shifting into tournament mind set and we understand out roles so there’s that clarity that we have in each and every game that we take on.”
Wheeler says that preparation has been fun so far. Players have been arriving at different time and gradually joining from isolation. Australia has made the final four times since 2006 and been in third place twice and they are looking to win it for the first time in 12 years.
“There’s a lot riding on this,” says Wheeler
“You can feel that in the air that we’re really excited and ready to go.”