(Reuters) - Tributes rained down on Sam Kerr in Australia on Wednesday after the striker-captain became the nation’s first player - male or female - to score a World Cup hat-trick in a four-goal blitz of Jamaica.
Kerr did it all by herself in Grenoble on Tuesday, firing the Socceroos to a 4-1 win over the eliminated Reggae Girlz and a last 16 clash against Norway..
Former Australia striker Tim Cahill, the country’s most prolific scorer with 50 goals from 108 matches, led the congratulations on social media.
“Massive result,” Cahill tweeted with a bunch of applause emoticons. “Congratulations Matildas and Sam Kerr with 4 goals”.
Kerr struck her first two with a pair of well-taken headers in the first half and capitalized on two defensive blunders after the break, with Jamaica goalkeeper Nicole McClure gift-wrapping her fourth with a botched attempt at a pass.
The 25-year-old Kerr now has five goals for the tournament to equal the United States’ Alex Morgan in the Golden Boot race.
Cahill, who retired from international football after the men’s World Cup last year, was renowned for his lethal headers and Kerr’s efforts against Jamaica raised comparisons by local pundits on Wednesday.
“It was the best individual performance of her Matildas career, and probably the greatest one-off show by any Australian player,” Fairfax soccer journalist Michael Lynch wrote on Wednesday.
Kerr joked that she was going after Cahill’s “heading record”.
“I grew up watching Timmy Cahill. Headers are my favorite goals. I think it just comes naturally for me, I know it is one of my strengths so I try and work on it a bit,” she said.
“Maybe it is coming from an AFL (Australian Rules football) background and getting up there.”
Kerr’s five goals for the tournament have lifted her past veteran team mate Lisa De Vanna’s previous Australian record of four at a World Cup set in the 2007 finals.
Only Americans Michelle Akers (1991) and Morgan, who scored five in the 13-0 rout of Thailand, have scored more goals in a women’s World Cup match.
Jamaica coach Hue Menzies was left dazzled by Kerr’s display.
“I told her after the game, ‘you were just good to sit back and watch’. I would pay to come and watch her, it’s just something she just has within her, and she brings her team with her,” Menzies said.
Despite the easy win, it was still a tense night for Kerr and Australia who were in danger of slipping into third place in the group after substitute Havana Solaun netted Jamaica’s first World Cup goal after halftime.
Kerr’s enterprise ensured Australia finished second, however, and pushed third-placed Brazil into a tough last 16 clash against heavyweights France or Germany.
Australia were criticized after being upset 2-1 by Italy in their opener, and the Matildas needed an epic 3-2 comeback win over Brazil to steady their tournament.
A defiant Kerr told the critics “to suck on that one” after the Brazil win, a riposte that sat uncomfortably with some media pundits at home.
After her Jamaica masterclass, there was only praise.
“She’s a special one and in the end I’m fortunate not only with the win but if there’s one player you’re really happy for to score the goals, it’s Sammy,” said coach Ante Milicic.
“We, as an Australian footballing community, should be thankful that we’re witnessing one of the best players in the world live.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly