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Off-field distractions aside, this is a Matildas team we can believe in

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Expert
5th June, 2019
9

Only Australian football could conspire against itself to bury a great story like the Matildas into a train-wreck of off-field distractions.

The return of the ugly Alen Stajcic saga following the formal apology and retraction from Football Federation Australia director Heather Reid was just another dark day in the management of Australian football.

That the board and management of the FFA seem content to let this continue without addressing the obvious questions as to why Stajcic was sacked and why Reid should be allowed to continue as a director following such defamatory action says everything you need to know about the state of the game’s governance.

As an outsider looking in, one might also question if launching a bid for equal World Cup pay on the eve of the competition is well-timed.

Of course, that’s a cynical viewpoint from someone with relatively little skin in the game.

I’m sure if, as a professional women’s footballer, I felt that given my contribution to the explosion of the game’s participation with the half of the population that aren’t men, and the brilliant on-field performances that have projected the Matildas into one of football’s most-feared teams – among the other sacrifices players have had, and continue, to make to play the game and represent their country – there probably is no such thing as a ‘bad time’ to seek equal pay.

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But if we push that to the side for just long enough, maybe, just maybe we can get excited about the little matter of the World Cup, which kicks off in the coming days.

Ellie Carpenter for the Matildas

Ellie Carpenter for the Matildas. (AAP Image/Tony McDonough)

Maybe, we can get excited about an Australian team which could provide our best World Cup result in our proud history as a football nation.

A 3-0 loss against the Netherlands is hardly the ideal way to head into the campaign, but the match was a far more even contest than the final score suggested.

In fact, Australia led the majority of statistics.

A tight first-half really could have swung either way and it was only two defensive lapses either side of the break that allowed the Netherlands to capitalise.

Of course, that’s an important – but not necessarily new – lesson for Ante Milicic and his team to learn.

However, it’s a lesson best learned in friendlies than in the real deal.

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The Australian team’s greatest strengths are found in the forward line and success in this tournament will be defined by Sam Kerr, supported by the likes of Caitlin Foord, Chloe Logarzo, Hayley Raso, Lisa De Vanna, and midfielders Tameka Yallop and Elise Kellond-Knight.

It would be unfair to the likes of Steph Catley, Clare Polkinghorne, Ellie Carpenter and Alanna Kennedy to cast the Matildas’ defence out as Australia’s weak link.

They are all fantastic players, who perhaps at times are left exposed by the side’s naturally attacking instincts.

Striking a better balance between offence and defence is perhaps Milicic’s biggest challenge in turning his promising team into genuine contenders.

With the top two and the best-performing third-placed team progressing from the group stage in France, Australia’s qualification to the knock-out rounds is surely academic, but performances against Brazil and an improving Italy will give us a glimpse into how far this team can go.

Australia famously defeated Brazil in the Round of 16 at the 2015 World Cup.

Kyah Simon

Kyah Simon after scoring for the Matildas against Brazil. (Photo: AFP)

The Brazilians remain a threat, but they are an ageing squad and are yet to win a game since securing the 2018 Copa America Femenina.

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Italy’s recent record shows signs of improvement but they are yet to take a truly convincing scalp in recent memory and have regularly struggled against Asian opposition, while the Jamaicans remain in a developmental phase.

The goal has to be to top the group and top it convincingly.

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From there, bigger tests will await, but surely anything less than a quarter-final appearance would be deemed a disappointing campaign.

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Thankfully, despite all the troubles off the field, the Matildas boast a brilliant squad and a well-respected coach (regardless of the circumstances which saw him installed) both of which will be the envy of all but a select few opponents.

Could this be the first Australian team to contest a football World Cup final?

If it isn’t, it certainly won’t be because of a lack of quality on the park.