Refreshed Ellie Carpenter returns to Matildas squad for Scotland and England friendlies

Ellie Carpenter has issued an ominous warning to Australia’s World Cup rivals, saying she has returned from a serious knee injury “stronger, faster and better than before” after being called into the Matildas squad for the upcoming friendlies against Scotland and England.

The Lyon right-back spent nine months on the sidelines after rupturing her ACL in the Champions League final in May last year, but has made steady progress since returning for her club side in early February and appears on track to reclaim her place in Tony Gustavsson’s starting XI in time for their opener against the Republic of Ireland in Sydney on 20 July.

Related: Matildas to play France in final Women’s World Cup warm-up

Carpenter last appeared for the Matildas in April 2022, but having come through her latest test unscathed – the Women’s Champions League quarter-final against Sam Kerr’s Chelsea on Wednesday night – the 22-year-old is eager to make the step up onto the international stage.

“Being away form the national team for so long it gives you that extra drive and that extra hunger to get back in,” Carpenter said. “And it’s a World Cup year so that was a massive motivation for me through my injury, to keep thinking there is such a big goal at the end of this.”

The road to recovery had not been easy for Carpenter, who is considered one of the best defenders in the world and has been a mainstay for the Matildas since making her debut as a 15-year-old in 2016.

She was stretchered off the Camp Nou pitch in tears during last year’s Champions League final before undergoing surgery on her damaged knee, but she said the time away from the football pitch since had helped refresh her both physically and mentally.

“Definitely it was hard and there were some ups ands downs,” she said. “But the most important thing I was thinking was let’s go day by day. I don’t think I’ve worked so hard in my life [as] during my rehab. I feel stronger, faster and better than before.

“It was a great time for me to switch off from football during those eight, nine months. I didn’t watch so much football. It was great for me to step away from the game for a little. That really refreshed me and brought the hunger back.”

Carpenter’s addition to the 24-woman squad is a major boost for Gustavsson with just four months to go before the co-hosted tournament begins in Australia and New Zealand.

The Swede has also been able to recall Melbourne City forward Holly McNamara – another long-term injury absentee – for the two friendlies in London against Scotland on 7 April and European champions England four days later.

But vice-captain Steph Catley has been ruled out of the games with a foot injury and will remain with her club Arsenal to recover, while forward Emily Gielnik also misses out with an ankle injury.

“We have all been delighted to see both Ellie and Holly come back to football following the incredible amount of hard work and professionalism they have shown in their recovery,” Gustavsson said.

Another warm-up fixture against top-quality opposition, against France, has been lined up in the final run-in to the World Cup, where Australia will have to navigate their way out of a group which, along with Ireland, also contains Canada and Nigeria.

A recent uptick in form and results has boosted hopes of a deep run at the tournament, but Gustavsson said there were still issues in need of addressing in the games against Scotland and England.

“We have full awareness that we are not the finished product and in February we identified some further areas for improvement,” he said. “These scheduled matches are a great opportunity to carry on addressing those areas against one of the best teams in the world who will test us in all facets of the game.”

Matildas squad: Mackenzie Arnold, Teagan Micah, Jada Whyman, Lydia Williams; Ellie Carpenter, Charlotte Grant, Clare Hunt, Alanna Kennedy, Aivi Luik, Courtney Nevin, Clare Polkinghorne; Alex Chidiac, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Katrina Gorry, Emily van Egmond, Clare Wheeler, Tameka Yallop; Larissa Crummer, Caitlin Foord, Mary Fowler, Sam Kerr, Holly McNamara, Hayley Raso, Cortnee Vine.