It’s hard to remember the last time there was so much expectation around an Aussie team, with the Women’s World Cup set to lift football out of the doldrums.
We’re about to find out if Ante Milicic is a miracle worker.
The former Socceroo has long been regarded as an astute tactician but this is his first test as the head coach of a full international team.
And even if Milicic can produce a better World Cup result than the Matildas’ run to the quarter-finals in Canada four years ago, it’s not like he’s solely responsible.
This is a team with Alen Stajcic’s input all over it, and even then it’s up to the players on the pitch to actually carry out the plans.
To that end it will be interesting to see how the Matildas perform under pressure in France, particularly against sides they’re expected to beat.
Players like Sam Kerr and Chloe Logarzo have enjoyed increasingly high profiles in recent years, but now it’s time to actually shine under the spotlight.
There’s nothing wrong with that.
A World Cup by its very nature should test players on the biggest stage, and this sort of sink or swim environment tends to separate the best from the rest.
Outstanding players should be professional enough to rise to the occasion.
Speaking of professionalism, it was interesting to see the Professional Footballers Australia association launch a bid for prize money equity on the eve of the tournament.
There’s no doubt that the women’s game deserves a far greater share of football’s riches. But how much? And how should it be calculated?
And if professionalism is now an issue in the women’s game – and when fans buy tickets to watch players earning money from the game, it should be – how do we square it with a couple of prickly issues still hanging over this Matildas squad?
Such as the PFA’s role in Stajcic’s dismissal?
And the rumours that it was Stajcic himself who was trying to create a more professional environment – an adjustment some players and their supporters are alleged to have found difficult to deal with?
Bonita Mersiades was bang on when she wrote for Football Today that three things should happen in the wake of Stajcic’s dismissal and the formal apology offered by Football Federation Australia board member Heather Reid last week.
Firstly, Reid’s position is now untenable.
Secondly, if the FFA’s new board is worried about being branded incompetent, they’ve now had more than 200 days to try and fix their image.
Thirdly – and most importantly – how about revealing who’s actually heading to France to attend the World Cup on football’s coin?
Because the lack of transparency has cast a pall over the Matildas right when they should be preparing for the biggest tournament of their lives.
Here’s hoping they can put all the off-field nonsense behind them and live up to their undoubted potential.
They’re talented enough to make a run to the semis, but can they hold their nerve?
That’s something Murray Shaw spent the better part of 14 years doing as the executive producer and all-round Mr Fix It at the helm of Fox Sports’ football coverage.
It’s not for nothing he’s known as one of the best in the business, but he also happens to be one of the nicest blokes around.
Shaw was let go by Fox Sports this week and I’m sure he won’t be the only big name to depart.
Ray Gatt at least went out on his own terms after almost 50 years on the beat as a dedicated sports reporter, most of which was spent writing about football.
He was one journo who inspired me to start rattling away at the keyboard and it would be remiss of me not to wish both Shaw and Gatt well going forward.
And the same goes for the Matildas, who kick off their World Cup campaign against Italy in Valenciennes at 9pm on Sunday night.
They’ve got a nation behind them. No pressure then.