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Australia’s Olympic campaign kicks off two days ahead of the opening ceremony with the Matildas facing New Zealand in their first group game of the women’s football tournament at 9.30pm AEST on Wednesday.
Australia and New Zealand are in the same group as Sweden and the USA. The Swedes produced a shock in Wednesday’s earlier game, beating the USA 3-0.
The Matildas, who were eliminated by Brazil in the quarterfinals five years ago, have struggled for form in recent months under new coach Tony Gustavsson.
Australia have lost to Germany, Denmark, Netherlands and Japan while drawing with Sweden. The back-to-back games against the Germans and Dutch were particularly concerning with Australia conceding five goals in each.
The Aussies should have enough firepower to get past the Kiwis, with Chelsea striker Sam Kerr and Arsenal’s Caitlin Foord in attack, and three points will be crucial with Sweden and the United States also in the group.
“Any time I pull on the jumper I feel really proud, but to call yourself an Olympian is something special,” Kerr said this week.
“Not many people get to do it so I’m really proud to be an Olympian and to represent Australia.
“It’s different to say a World Cup just for the fact that it is the Olympics. It’s a little bit prestigious, it’s just overwhelming.”
The Matildas have 12 players returning from the squad that went to Rio, and along with Kerr and Foord have Lyon defender Ellie Carpenter, Arsenal’s Steph Catley and Lydia Williams, and Alanna Kennedy, who played last season with Tottenham Hotspur.
The top two finishers from each group qualify as do the top two third-ranked teams across the group stage.
“I think it’s a tough group, obviously, but when you go to an Olympic Games and a World Cup, you want to play the best and beat the best so it’s a good challenge for us,” said Kerr.
Australia’s first ever women’s international was against New Zealand and have played their geographic rivals more than any other nation. The Kiwis are coached by Tom Sermanni, who led the side to Australia’s first ever Asian Cup win in 2010.
Kick-off: 9:30pm (AEST)
Venue: Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo
TV: Channel Seven
Odds: Matildas $1.30, New Zealand $12.00, Draw $4.80 (odds via PlayUp)
1. Lydia Williams, 2. Sam Kerr, 3. Kyra Cooney-Cross, 4. Clare Polkinghorne, 5. Aivi Luik, 6, Chloe Logarzo, 7. Steph Catley, 8. Elise Kellond-Knight, 9. Caitlin Foord, 10. Emily van Egmond, 11. Mary Fowler, 12. Ellie Carpenter, 13. Tameka Yallop, 14. Alanna Kennedy, 15. Emily Gielnik, 16, Hayley Raso, 17. Kyah Simon, 18. Teagan Micah, 19. Courtney Nevin, 20. Charlotte Grant, 21. Laura Brock, 22. Mackenzie Arnold
1. Erin Nayler, 2. Ria Percival, 3. Anna Green, 4. CJ Bott, 5. Meikayla Moore, 6. Claudia Bunge, 7. Ali Riley, 8. Abby Erceg, 9. Gabi Rennie, 10. Annalie Longo, 11. Olivia Chance, 12. Betsy Hassett, 13. Paige Satchell, 14. Katie Bowen, 15. Daisy Cleverley, 16. Emma Rolston, 17. Hannah Wilkinson, 18. Anna Leat, 19. Elizabeth Anton, 20. Marisa van der Meer, 21. Michaela Robertson, 22. Victoria Esson