We’re already onto group C in this World Cup countdown, and it is time for Australia!
The Matildas (whose nickname comes from an old Australian folk song) has been on the international scene for quite some time, having participated in all but one of the previous World Cups (they missed out on the inagural edition in China 1991), and they have steadily improved during the years. However, they’ve never been able to make it past the quarter-finals (which is still the furthest that any male or female Australian team has reached), a curse that they are now looking to break. They qualified after they defeated Thailand in the semifinals of the AFC Women’s Asian Cup (Australia moved from the Oceania Football Confederation to the Asian Football Federation in 2006 because they were fed up with Fifa not allowing Oceania an automatic qualifying spot at the time, and so they (at least the men’s side) perceived it to be easier to qualify via the Asian route), but lost 0-1 to Japan in the final. They drew 0-0 against South Korea, won 8-0 against Vietnam and drew 1-1 with Japan in the group games, before going up against Thailand in the semi-finals.
Sam Kerr is one of the biggest names in the Australian squad. The 25 year old, who was shortlisted for The Best FIFA Women’s Player in 2018, finished off the previous NWSL (the American league) and W-league (the Australian league) as top scorer, and she is a force to be reckoned with, having set a new record after scoring in seven consecutive Matildas games in 2017/18. She was also named captain by new head coach Ante Milicic, a role that she was very humbled to receive.
“It’s a massive honor,” Kerr said. “Milicic speaks in such a passionate way, it’s quite uplifting … it had me quite emotional when he asked me.”
Kerr will be taking over the role from former co-captains Lisa De Vanna and Clare Polkinghorne. De Vanna has represented the Matildas since 2004 and captained the team at their last World Cup appereance in 2015. The 34 year-old is another attacking option with a lot of pace and great dribbling skills. Alanna Kennedy is only 24 years old, but has already represented Australia for years, and is nowadays a cornerstone in their defense. At the 2018 Asian Cup she scored two goals, one of them being the vital stoppage time equalizer against Thailand in the semi-final, that saw the game go to penalties, where Australia won. Chloe Logarzo and Emily van Egmond are two other strong players who are contributing on the midfield.
There has been a lot of talk lately about the Matildas on the coaching front, after Alen Stajcic was fired as head coach of the team in January, only five months before the World Cup. Although the exact reasons behind firing Stajcic remain unclear (the FFA claim that thiss is because of confidentiality) it is being said that there was a toxic team culture in the squad, and that the situation was unsustainable. The decision has come with a lot of controversy, and many players have spoken out against the sacking of Stajcic.
In his place, Ante Milicic has been named the interim coach to take over the team (with interim meaning that he is only temporarily in charge until a new head coach is appointed). Milicic is a former Australia international player and was a Socceroos (nickname for the men’s team) assistant under Ange Postecoglou, however he has never coached a women’s team. Former Australia captain Melissa Barbieri spoke out about the newly appointed coach, saying “I think it is fantastic that Ante (Milicic) has put his hand up to coach the Matildas.”
“He goes into this job unaware of how much he will fall in love with women’s football.”
It is as of yet unclear what kind of formation that Milicic will want to play, but at the 2018 Asian Cup the team tended to play some different formations, including a 3-4-2-1.
Milicic will get a chance to feel out his potential tactics and formations rather quickly, as the Australian side are hosting the Cup of Nations, with their first kick off against New Zealand on February 28th, a game which they won 2-0. They will also play South Korea on the 3rd of March and Argentina on the 6th of March. Then they have a friendly against USA scheduled on the 5th of April.
That is a little bit on the first team in group C! Australia are quite the heavy favourites to go pretty far in this tournament – do yous agree? Fire up the comment section! Also, give us your take on the appointment of yet another male coach who has never set foot in the women’s game before? Opinions may differ and I try to let my own feelings stay out of these World Cup Countdown pieces as much as possible, but my feelings do not match those of Barbieri regarding yet another male coach getting the go-ahead to coach a women’s team, never having coached a women’s team before in his life (he should not have to ‘fall in love with women’s football’ AFTER already having been appointed). I will write an opinion piece on the problematic issue that is unfortunately all too recurring.