World Cup Preview: Australia

The Matildas secured qualification for the World Cup during the 2018 AFC Asian Cup. After defeating Thailand on penalties in the semi-finals, they faced Japan in the final. Despite losing 1-0 in that final, their performance in the tournament ensured the still gained a spot at France 2019. This means the Matildas will compete in their 7th World Cup, after only failing to qualify in China 1991.

Since securing qualification the Matildas have continued to be on good form. In the 2018 Tournament of Nations, the Matildas went undefeated, winning two (against Japan and Brazil), and drawing 1-1 with the USA. With both Australia and the USA finishing the tournament on 7 points, it was down to goal difference to determine the winners. Unfortunately for Australia, it was the USA who ended up lifting the trophy. They began the World Cup year by lifting the Cup of Nations, after beating all three other teams (New Zealand, South Korea and Argentina) on home soil.

In their final friendlies before for travelling to France, the Matildas were beaten 5-3 by the USA, and most recently lost 3-0 to the Netherlands.

Despite their good form in 2018, the start of 2019 saw the sacking of Head Coach Alan Stajcic by the Football Federation of Australia. This decision proved very controversial, with the FFA refusing to comment on it. Players including Sam Kerr and Lydia Williams voiced their support for Stajcic and seemed equally as surprised by his sacking. Ante Milicic was later named the new Head Coach, despite having no previous experience in the women’s game. One of Milicic’s first actions as Head Coach was the naming of Sam Kerr and Steph Catley as the new Captain and Vice-Captain of the Matildas.

Photo from @Nike

The 23 players selected to represent Australia at this year’s World Cup offer a wide range of both youth and experience. 16-year-old forward Mary Fowler is the youngest player to be named in the squad, with just four senior caps so far. There was also a first World Cup call up for midfielder Aivi Luik. At 34 years old, Luik has just 21 caps despite making her debut in 2010. The Matilda’s top goal scorer Lisa De Vanna was called up to the squad for her fourth World Cup. The forward has scored 47 goals in 147 appearances for Australia and is currently the most capped player in the squad. Captain Sam Kerr will compete in her 3rd World Cup despite being just 25 years old. She has scored 31 goals in 77 appearances.

My ‘Player to Watch’ for the Matildas at the World Cup is defender Alanna Kennedy (jersey number 14). Kennedy made her debut aged 19 in 2012 and represented Australia at the 2015 World Cup. She currently has 78 senior caps and has scored 7 goals. Kennedy plays her club football in America, with the Orlando Pride, where she is an integral part of their back line. Her speed and athleticism are equally matched by her leadership and ability to read the game, meaning she can cause problems for strikers on any team she faces. As well as being a rock at the back, Kennedy has the ability to drive the ball forward and create goal scoring opportunities for her team, whilst also using her height on set pieces to score goals of her own.

The Matildas begin their World Cup journey in Valenciennes on June 9th when they face Italy. They then face Brazil on June 13th and Jamaica on June 18th.

Alanna Kennedy. Photo from @alannakennedy
Louise Golby
louiseeringolby@outlook.com