Australia goes into the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup full of confidence, following their victory at last year’s AFC Asian Cup in China. As continental champions, there is now an expectation on the Matildas to not only reach the knockout stage, but to progress further in the tournament.
Australia coach Tom Sermanni leads the team to its fifth consecutive World Cup finals appearance, his third in charge, after achieving their best ever result in the 2007 tournament in China. On that occasion, the Matildas progressed to the knockout stage following draws against Canada and Norway, and a victory over Ghana, but were eventually beaten by Brazil in the quarter final stage.
Sermanni named a youthful squad for the tournament, which includes seven women under the age of twenty. Caitlin Foord, 16, plies her trade at Sydney FC in the W-League, whilst Sam Kerr, Emily van Egmond and Teigen Allen are all only 17 years old.
The Matildas will be led by goalkeeper Melissa Barbieri in Germany, who has been captain of the side since the retirement of Cheryl Salisbury in 2009. Amazingly, Barbieri stands between the posts at just 168cm, and is one of the shortest goalkeepers in world football.
The squad left Australia for Germany on June 14 amidst a big media presence in Sydney. The night before, the girls were guest of honour at a cocktail party attended by family, friends and Socceroos coach Holger Osieck and captain Lucas Neill. To show how far the women’s game has come in Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald on Saturday dedicated a double page spread to the Women’s World Cup, previewing the tournament and Australia’s group opponents.
The girls have had the best possible lead-up to the tournament, with two warm-up victories in the past week against World Cup opposition. A 3-2 victory over Mexico in Gottingen was bettered by the 2-0 win against world number 10 England in Wolfsburg.
Australia will play their first match of the tournament against one of the tournament favourites Brazil in Moenchengladbach on Wednesday. The match will be a repeat of the epic 2007 quarter final in Tianjin, where a late strike from Cristiane sealed a 3-2 victory for the Brazilians, and a passage through to the semi finals.
Four years on and Australia have every chance of causing an upset over their more fancied opponents, with the young squad eager to impose themselves on the world stage. The Matildas recorded a victory over Brazil in the 2008 Peace Cup, where a last minute strike from Kyah Simon resulted in a 1-0 victory for the Australians.
Whilst Australia will be looking to take a result from the match on Wednesday, it will be the matches against Norway and Equatorial Guinea which will decide whether or not the Matildas progress from Group D.
With an average age of just 22, the Matildas will need the likes of De Vanna, Barbieri and Garriock to show their experience to the younger girls in the squad. With such a young team, it could be in four years time in Canada 2015, when the girls shine brightly on the world stage.