They're in the World Cup 'Group of Death' but here's why the Matildas could be unlikely heroes

Photo: Matt King/ Getty.

While football news in Australia is currently dominated by whether we could host the 2022 World Cup if Qatar is found guilty of corruption allegations, Australia’s presence at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada has completely slipped under the radar.

Over the course of the tournament, which kicks off tomorrow, the Matildas will take on the best female footballers from all over the world. Their opener doesn’t get any tougher, against tournament favourites the USA on Tuesday, June 9 in Winnipeg, starting at 9.30am (AEST) in front of an expected capacity crowd of 30,000.

It’s not just their opener, either – the Matildas have tough competition all over after being placed in the “Group of Death”, Group D. Both USA and Sweden are ranked in the top five, and Nigeria are sure to be at least competitive.

But since the appointment of Alen Stajcic as coach last September year, following the departure of Hesterine de Reus, the Matildas have gone through some big changes.

One was Stajcic’s controversial decision to leave Kate Gill out of his 23-player squad for Canada.

Like the Socceroos coach Ange Postecoglou, Stajcic takes a proactive approach to the team’s selection and strategy.

“It is a team that has lots of variations in attack so I believe we can cause a threat to any team in the world, and the players that were picked were certainly picked with that in mind,” Stajcic told The ABC.

“Going on from our philosophy and style of play, it’s a dynamic, mobile team that can attack and score goals.”

And the team agrees.

Midfielder Nicola Bolger told Football Australia (FA) that Stajcic is “a real attacking coach and he just backs players, wants is to get out there and have a go, when one-on-one take players on”.

“It’s really exciting football to play. Just like the Socceroos with Ange, they are playing exciting football and we’re really similar now.

“We’re not going to hold back against any team.”

But it won’t just Australia fighting for its place on the field against the US. The US will have its focus turned to the Matilda’s co-captain Lisa De Vanna.

With 33 goals in 97 internationals (that’s more than Tim Cahill) she ranks as one of the most intimidating Australian players, and with Sam Kerr, who has played in the US league for WNY Flash as another danger, they’re the backbone of a force to be reckoned with.

“I think Alen Stajcic has come up with every bit of tactical information you can possibly think of to help us prepare for these games,” De Vanna told FA.

“It’s now up to us to go out and do it. There are only two ways the players can go, either believe in themselves or fear their opponents, so it’s their choice in the end.”

Another big talking point has been the artificial surface.

When it was revealed that the faux turf would be used, more than 60 elite female players sued FIFA and the Canadian Soccer Association in October last year, saying it was gender discrimination because the men’s World Cup is only played on real grass. The case was dropped in January.

Now it will be about which teams adapt quicker to playing conditions to secure the advantage.

Since arriving in Canada, the Matildas have played a private training game against China, which ended 1-1. The team also played New Zealand and will go up against Switzerland later this week to round out their preparations, according to Football Australia.

“It’s been really beneficial (spending time in Vancouver). We’ve been acclimatising to the weather and it’s been great to get a few more games under our belt against New Zealand and China so hopefully we’ll be ready to go,” defender Alanna Kennedy told FA.

After coming runners-up at last year’s Asian Cup, and winning it in 2010, Australia has proved it’s a serious contender for the win.

Go the Matildas!

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