Pat O’Connor, who started her footballing adventure at Bass Hill RSL as a 24-year-old, finds it amusing that at 80 years of age she…
Somewhere deep in Football Australia HQ the big lever has been pulled signalling that the Matildas have entered tournament mode.
The team will be looking to win its second-ever Asian Cup title when it begins its campaign in India later this week. With an intriguing history at the tournament as well as the usual eye on 2023 World Cup, it is set to be another fascinating tournament.
Australians have been competing the Asian Cup since 1975 when a New South Wales representative side finished third, before Western Australia competed at the 1980 tournament. Australia’s permanent move to the Asian Football Confederation in 2006 saw the tournament played here, with Australia finishing second, losing on penalties to China.
A fourth-place finish in 2008 was then followed by a breakthrough triumph in 2010; Kyah Simon scored the game-winning penalty in the final against North Korea to see Australia earn its first-ever Asian Cup.
A switch to a quadrennial tournament hasn’t slowed the Matildas down. Since that 2010 trophy Australia has made it to every single Asian Cup final, though the team has been bested by Japan on both occasions.
How the tournament works
An expanded competition in 2022 sees 12 teams taking part for the first time. Divided into three groups, the top two teams will progress to the quarter-finals as well as the two best third-placed teams. The Asian Cup is not only the continent’s biggest tournament, but it doubles as qualifying for the 2023 Women’s World Cup, to be held in Australia and New Zealand.
Australia has already qualified for 2023 as a co-host, but where they finish in the Asian Cup could have massive ramifications for the other nations in the tournament.
On top of Australia’s automatic qualification, Asia has five direct slots for 2023 and two spots in the intercontinental play-off tournament.
Where Australia finish in the Asian Cup will determine the course of action required to see which teams will play off against each other and which countries will take the direct qualification and intercontinental playoff spots.
What’s the story for the Matildas?
This tournament has dual storylines. Looking at it solely in isolation, the Matildas are a perennial threat at Asia’s biggest tournament. Australia have made four of the five finals since 2006 but have unfortunately come out victorious on only one occasion.
It was a dramatic final in 2010, with torrential rain and a penalty shootout required to separate the Matildas from North Korea. Simon’s winning penalty sparked instantly iconic celebrations from the team.
Australia have made the 2014 and 2018 finals and fallen to Japan by a single goal to nil on both occasions. The team will be desperate to flip the script and return to that winning feeling in the final, ideally against Japan.
However, the Asian Cup doesn’t exist on its own. It is also the last major tournament before the 2023 Women’s World Cup on home soil and consequently presents Tony Gustavsson with his final chance to replicate a true major tournament experience.
He and the team will once again need to balance competing expectations. Australians will demand a spot in the final at a minimum. A trophy would rectify the recent lack of silverware and signify that Gustavsson’s team is capable of performing on the biggest stages.
There must also be a focus, no matter how small, on bringing in new faces and exposing them to international competition and major tournaments. Pre-tournament Gustavsson did just that, inviting 25 players to a camp in Dubai and ultimately selecting two players who are yet to debut for the Matildas and six players with fewer than 20 caps.
Lydia Williams, Mackenzie Arnold, Teagan Micah, Clare Polkinghorne, Alanna Kennedy, Steph Catley, Ellie Carpenter, Aivi Luik, Courtney Nevin, Charlotte Grant, Emily van Egmond, Tameka Yallop, Kyra Cooney-Cross, Clare Wheeler, Kyah Simon, Sam Kerr, Caitlin Foord, Hayley Raso, Emily Gielnik, Mary Fowler, Remy Siemsen, Holly McNamara and Cortnee Vine.
Group B opponents
Australia has been drawn in Group B with Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand.
The Matildas kick things off with Indonesia, a team they have never met before and who are returning to the continental stage for the first time in 33 years.
A match up with the Philippines follows, with former Matildas head coach Alen Stajcic in charge of the similarly nicknamed Malditas. The teams have only ever played once before, back in 2008, with Australia running out 7-0 winners.
Rounding out the group stage is Thailand. The Matildas have taken on Thailand seven times, including at the last Asian Cup back in 2018 and during the Olympic qualifiers in 2020, for six wins and a draw.
Australia versus Indonesia – Friday, 21 January, at 9pm AEDT.
Philippines versus Australia – Monday, 24 January, at 9pm AEDT.
Australia versus Thailand – Friday, 28 January, at 1am AEDT.
How to watch
The 2022 AFC Women’s Asian Cup will be broadcast in Australia via Network 10, and simulcast on 10 Play.
The Matildas’ opening match against Indonesia on Friday 21 January will kick off at 9pm AEDT, and will be shown on free-to-air on 10 Bold.
The second match against the Philippines on Monday 24 January is also a 9pm AEDT kick off, and will also be broadcast on 10 Bold.
The third group stage game will take place on Friday 28 January with a 1am AEDT kick off, and this fixture will be shown on 10’s main channel.