Behind the scoring opportunities of a team’s forwards there invariably lies the hard work from behind them, as chances are crafted through all kinds of nous and creativity. Before their emphatic 6-1 win over Zimbabwe, Australia spurned the opportunity to chalk up two victories in the 2016 Women’s Olympic Football Tournament, producing plenty of openings during a defeat to Canada and a draw with Germany.
Their dominance against the African side was not solely down to the efforts of combative players like Caitlin Foord, Samantha Kerr and Lisa De Vanna, but also the vision that Elise Kellond-Knight brings to the team’s play. The Australian No8 will be a key figure when her side take on Brazil in the quarter-finals. For the hosts, the game represents the chance to avenge their loss to Australia in the FIFA Women's World Cup™ Canada 2015.
"We know we have a very dangerous forward line, and we’ve proved it in the tournament so far. We just weren’t clinical enough in our first two games. We created a lot of opportunities, but couldn’t get the results," she told FIFA.com. "The important thing is to keep making chances."
Kellond-Knight plays as a holding midfielder and is a key part of her team’s defensive system. But she shines brightest when going forward, dictating the rhythm of the game with great effectiveness through her talent for both long passes – whether by switching the play to the wings or with direct balls into the area – and shorter, quicker touches that allow the team to surge forward in possession.
Not that she is responsible for orchestrating the team all on her own. Alongside her the diminutive Katrina Gorry fizzes tirelessly as the main driving force. The skillsets of the two complement each other perfectly, and they have also benefited from the bond established during a long spell sharing the midfield at Brisbane Roar. "We played together for years until I went to Germany last season. We have a great connection. Each of us makes the other play better," said Kellond-Knight, the only member of the Australian first team who plays her football in Europe, in her case with 1. FFC Turbine Potsdam.
I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like. It’s hard enough to hear out on the pitch with 20,000 people in the stadium. With 60,000 it’ll be surreal.
Competing in the Women’s Bundesliga was an “eye-opener”, in her words, who turned 26 on Thursday. "It's a challenge. They play very physical football, and I had to work hard. I had to adapt, making my game more tactical and technical. But I also learned to be more direct," she said.
She believes that the presence of more of her countrywomen in Europe would be beneficial, but she is aware that the footballing calendars of the two countries pose a problem. "Unfortunately, the European leagues don’t match up with the Australian championship at the moment, so players have to decide either to stay at home and strengthen our league, or develop their game in Europe.”
Now the midfielder has to combine the experience she has gleaned from her move with her natural talent in a tough showdown against the Seleção in Belo Horizonte. Facing the home team is always an electrifying moment, especially in the knockout rounds. And the anticipation is even greater when it is Brazil-Australia. After all, it will be the fourth international competition where the Matildas have faced Brazil – most memorably of all at last year's World Cup in Canada, when Australia sent their opponents packing with a 1-0 triumph in the Round of 16. Elise was voted player of the match in that game. "We’ve played Brazil several times, including twice last year, so we know we can take them on as equals. They’ll have the crowd on their side, and obviously there is a lot of expectation surrounding them. But I think we have a very good chance,” she said.
The hosts played in front of packed stadiums wherever they went in the group phase, so Elise is prepared for a raucous atmosphere at the Mineirao. "I don’t think I'll have played in front of such a big crowd before. For me, it's a real opportunity to experience something that I dreamt about when I was a child. I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like. It’s hard enough to hear out on the pitch with 20,000 people in the stadium. With 60,000 it’ll be surreal.”
Before facing such a challenge, there is nothing like making the net bulge like Australia did against Zimbabwe to leave the frustrations of previous rounds behind. "It's football, isn’t it," she said at the end of our chat. "You always hope that luck will smile on you, and as quickly as possible, especially in the knockout phase. That's when you really need the rub of the green.”