Stajcic hails Westfield Matildas duo after AFC nominations

Westfield Matildas co-captain Lisa De Vanna and winger Caitlin Foord have been shortlisted for one of Asian football’s top individual honours after the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) announced the nominees for the 2016 AFC Women’s Player of the Year Award.

De Vanna, who turns 32 on Monday and Foord, who celebrates her 22nd birthday tomorrow, make up two of the three nominees, with China’s Tan Ruyin the other player in contention to be crowned Asia’s best female footballer of 2016.

It is the first time two Australian players have been nominated for the award in the same year.

Westfield Matildas duo nominated for AFC's top award

“To have two out of three nominations in such a strong confederation where we have some of the best players and football countries in the world is a real testament of how well our team performed in 2016,” said Westfield Matildas Head Coach Alen Stajcic.

“Lisa’s nomination is testament to her longevity and the extremely high level she has been able to maintain over a long period of time.”

“For Caitlin, her nomination is just reward of her talent and what she is capable of. She has had a great year and I’ve got no doubt she can go up another gear and with her potential become one of the best players in the game.”

Foord celebrates scoring her first goal at the Rio Games.

A veteran of 117 international appearances, De Vanna led by example throughout the Westfield Matildas’ 2016 campaign, her on field leadership and performances helping the Westfield Matildas finish undefeated at the Olympic qualifying tournament before the team captured the imagination of the Australian sporting public in Rio until they were heartbreakingly bundled out in a penalty shootout by host nation Brazil.

De Vanna kick started the Westfield Matildas’ Olympic qualifiers, scoring the first goal a 3-1 win over tournament hosts Japan, while she also struck the equaliser against New Zealand at Etihad Stadium in Australia’s final match before departing for Brazil. She also scored one of the fastest goals in Olympic history with her 2nd minute strike triggering a 6-1 win against Zimbabwe.

“To be honest it was a bit of a shock when I found out because there are a lot of fantastic players not only in the Matildas squad but throughout Asia,” said De Vanna.

Australia doubled their advantage before the break when captain Lisa De Vanna weaved her way towards goal.

“Representing your country at any level is a huge honour in itself and to be nominated for an individual award like this is really humbling. To have Caitlin nominated as well, I just think it’s great to have Australian players being acknowledged because it shows how far the game has come here.”

Foord was also a standout performer during the Westfield Matildas’ Olympic qualifying campaign and then in Rio, while she scored both goals in a 2-0 win over New Zealand in Ballarat back in June.

With 50 senior international appearances to her name after making her debut at the age of 16, Foord’s nomination is evidence of her prodigious talent.

“Seeing that Lisa and I have been nominated was a bit of a surprise and not something I would have expected at all,” said Foord.

“Obviously it’s a huge honour to be nominated as one of the best players in Asia this year when there are so many amazing players in the region, so I’m really honoured.

“To be nominated alongside Lisa is pretty cool, I think it shows how far the Matildas have come to have two players nominated.”

Caitlin Foord races free of her marker to get to the ball first.

Adding further impressiveness to Foord’s nomination is that she broke her collarbone at the start of the year while playing in the Westfield W-League.

“It was tough because I broke my collarbone so I wasn’t even sure I’d even be going to the Olympic qualifiers so I was just happy to make it back and be there,” said Foord.

“I was just glad to be part of that experience, get myself healthy and then to play at an Olympic Games and live a dream of mine was amazing.”

The AFC Awards Ceremony will be held on 1 December 2016 at a glittering gala event in Abu Dhabi.

Foord and De Vanna’s nominations come after fellow Westfield Matildas team mate Elise Kellond-Knight was one of the three nominees for the award last year.

Previous Australians to have won the AFC Women’s Player of the Year Award include Kate Gill in 2010 and Katrina Gorry in 2014.