Australia’s Elise Kellond-Knight knows all too well the ups and down of football. Three years ago she reached self-proclaimed “peak career form” playing with style and panache at the FIFA Women’s World Cup Germany 2011™ to earn selection in the team of the tournament. However, within a matter of months Kellond-Knight was undergoing 12 months of rehabilitation following a knee reconstruction.
Now Kellond-Knight is undergoing somewhat of a mid-career transformation having been shifted from an attacking left full-back into a holding midfielder, one charged with the responsibility of building attacks from deep. A ground-breaking sojourn in Japan’s Nadeshiko League looms, but the immediate goal is this week’s eight-nation AFC Asian Women’s Cup in Vietnam, and winning a ticket to next year’s FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada.
Australia's opening game of the tournament was packed full of those ups and downs that Kellond-Knight is so aware of. Facing reigning Women's World Cup holders Japan, the Matildas raced into a two-goal lead through Caitlin Foord and Lisa De Vanna, only to be pegged back in the closing minutes to end all square at 2-2.
Despite dropping points in their opening group encounter - which also contains hosts Vietnam and Jordan - they are out to collect one of the five tickets on offer to Asian teams in the 24-nation Canada 2015 field. With Australia reigning continental champions they harbour high hopes of reaching the world stage for the sixth successive time. On the debit side, the team’s preparations have been disrupted by a recent parting of ways with Dutch coach Hesterine de Reus, who was replaced by Alen Stajcic just a month ago.
A focus on skill rather than physical attributes which I think is what football should be about.
Kellond-Knight though suggested the team remain upbeat despite the distraction. “Confidence is pretty high, and we have all adapted pretty quickly given what has happened,” Kellond-Knight told FIFA.com from Ho Chi Minch City ahead of the opening match. “The mood is definitely positive.”
So too the pressure of being champions brings an added layer for the Matildas. “When you come into a tournament as winners, there is an expectation that it will happen again,” says Kellond-Knight. “Everyone back home is expecting us to produce results. There is extra attention on the team. There is always that hidden drive in the Matildas, that extra bit of determination. It doesn’t matter who the coach is or what the situation is we always want to do well on the field.”
Though only 23, Kellond-Knight is now an experienced figure in a relatively youthful Matildas side. So if Germany 2011 was a career high, has she allowed herself to cast a thought towards Canada? “Of course,” she says. “Qualification is realistic, with five spots up for grabs and North Korea not here, so things have to go quite pear-shaped not to qualify. But Jordan and Vietnam are tough to beat.”
Now she has the chance to pit her wits in the centre of the park against Asia’s famed midfield technicians. Playing in a holding midfield role is, Kellond-Knight says, “quite different, you have to be quite disciplined and a better understanding of the game.”
Following the tournament Kellond-Knight and best football friend, fellow Matildas midfielder Tameka Butt head straight to Japan for a stint with Iga FC Kunoichi in Japan’s Nadeshiko League. The mountainous semi-rural town is a long way in every sense a long way from the Gold Coast; Australia’s surfing capital where Kellond-Knight calls home.
“They (the Nadeshiko League) play a similar game to what Meeks (Butt) and I like to play. Very technical and very much a focus on skill rather than physical attributes which I think is what football should be about. Hopefully we can have a really good cultural and life experience as well.
“As current world champions they (Japan) are obviously doing something right so to see their standards will be a real benefit. We have had only had one player go across before and that was (former Australia captain) Cheryl Salisbury so hopefully this will pave the way for other Australians, and also vice-versa.”
Kellond-Knight studies pharmacy although football commitments have extended the course significantly. Her passion however, aside from football, is surfing. “I think everyone on the Gold Coast surfs... that is the stereotype anyway,” says Kellond-Knight with a laugh. “My dad encouraged me to get into it but I wouldn’t be in it. But eventually I did take it up when I was about 16. Since then I have loved it. It is a great form of relaxation and clears the mind."