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Category: Australian National Team

Will interim head coach Ante Milicic survive the big test?

The expectations are high for the Matildas this summer; there will be a lot of eyes on them in France to see if they can prove their worth as a first-time Pot 1 team.  This status means that, based on FIFA rankings, Australia will be considered the favorite to finish atop their group, cast into this category alongside major women’s soccer powers France, Germany, England, Canada, and the United States.  Luckily, the Matildas have the talent, athleticism, and experience to live up to the reputation that they have worked so hard to build over the past few years.  However, unfortunately for Ante Milicic, the capability of the Australian women will leave the blame to fall on the last minute coaching change.

Ante Milicic is definitely a qualified football coach, having previously acted as head coach to the Australian U-23 men’s side and assistant coach to both the Socceroos and two A-League teams.  The pressing question, though, is how Milicic will measure up as a women’s football coach.  With no experience coaching women, Milicic presents the Matildas with an additional challenge to the normal struggle of adjusting to a new head coach.  At face, this seems like all too much growing and adapting in so little time; however, the squad’s performances in their preparatory matches seem to suggest otherwise.  The Matildas have appeared as strong and cohesive as ever, and all signs point to the team being ready to dominate come June.  However, if for some reason their World Cup showing does not live up to the predictions, Ante Milicic will no doubt be the victim of a lot of criticism.  To add to the pressure, Milicic’s contract is up for revision at the end of the summer, and a solid run in France would likely secure his role as the Matildas head coach going forward.

Read more on the controversial coaching change under Team History

 

Sources:

“Australia appoints Ante Milicic to lead Matildas to World Cup”. ESPN, 17 February 2019. http://www.espn.com/soccer/australia/story/3777834/australia-appoints-ante-milicic-to-lead-matildas-to-world-cup

 

Group Stage Match 3: Jamaica

When former Matildas coach Alen Stajcic was asked about the Jamaican team this past December, he said that just qualifying for the 2019 World Cup meant that they were a good side.  This is no respectful exaggeration on his side; the Jamaican women have risen quickly since the restart of their national team in 2018, coming out on top of the Caribbean zone to gain a spot in the CONCACAF final qualifiers with just a few months of team training.  With the United States and Canada usually locking up the top two World Cup berths from the region, the competition for the third guaranteed spot is pretty intense.  The main contenders have historically included the teams from Mexico, Costa Rica, and Panama, so when the Jamaican women went on to clinch this highly contested spot for France 2019, they surprised a lot of people.  However, the team proved themselves to be worthy throughout the CONCACAF tournament; the women upset Costa Rica early on and battled it out with Panama, securing a victory in a penalty kick shootout.  In doing so, Jamaica also booked their ticket to France, not only earning their country’s first Women’s World Cup berth, but also the Caribbean’s first.

Jamaica presents a dynamic and athletic team that is shockingly impressive for the length of the team’s latest existence.  Additionally, being that the team itself is so young, one of its strengths lies in the fact that the Jamaican women’s soccer is a bit of an unknown quality.  It will be interesting to see how the Jamaican defense matches against the Australian offense; many teams struggle to deal with the pace of the Matildas’ attackers, but seeing what we have of the Jamaicans, they just might be able to keep up.  Where the Jamaican squad is obviously lacking though, is in international experience; if the Australian women are able to get a lead early on in the match and capitalize on the World Cup newcomers, the game could run a high tally.  I think Jamaica will prove to hold their own in the tournament, but I predict a 3-0 win in favor of the Matildas.

Read more on the  Jamaican National Team

 

Sources:

Lynch, M. “Differing styles just a part of Matildas’ World Cup challenge: Stajcic”. The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 December 2018. https://www.smh.com.au/sport/soccer/differing-styles-just-a-part-of-matildas-world-cup-challenge-stajcic-20181209-p50l4r.html

Group Stage Match 2: Brazil

Australia and Brazil have history.  The two teams know each other well; they have faced each other in the last five major international tournaments (World Cups and Olympic Games) that the Matildas have competed in.  Although Brazil has the upper hand in the win column, the Australian women have proven themselves to be worthy opponents in the most recent of the face offs.  The Matildas halted the Brazilian women’s 2015 World Cup run at the round of 16 when Kyah Simon scored in the 80th minute of the match, clinching a 1 – 0 victory; and at the 2016 Olympics, the Aussies just barely fell short of a repeat, tying 0-0 and then losing out to the host nation 6-7 in penalty kicks.  Even more convincing though, are the team’s decisive wins in both the 2017 and 2018 Tournament of Nations cups, besting Brazil 6-1 and 3-1 in the respective years.  So, the history behind this matchup alone is enough to make it one of the more meaningful games of the group stage, but to add to the stakes, the winner of the match will is also expected to finish on top of Group C and secure a high seed position ahead of the knockout stage lineups.

Both squads are extremely attacking minded, each captained by extraordinary goal scorers (Marta for the Brazilians and Sam Kerr for the Aussies) whom are considered to be among the best ever in women’s soccer.  But while the Brazilians are famous for their illusory flair, the team also has a reputation of a weaker defensive squad.  Similarly, the Matildas have been struggling defensively as of late; minor injuries to players have created inconsistencies in their starting back line and sparked questions of who could step in if one of the preferred back four is unavailable.  Each team competing in France has its strengths and weaknesses, but the combination of these specific characteristics mean that the Australia v. Brazil face off will likely contain a flurry of goals.  The match is sure to be close, but I predict that after a 90 minute battle, Australia will squeak out three points with a slim but eventful 4-2 scoreline.  The comforting thing about the group stage, though, is that despite this one result, both superpowers will likely continue on to the knockout round.

 

Sources:

Lynch, M. “Differing styles just a part of Matildas’ World Cup Challenge: Stajcic”. The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 December 2018. https://www.smh.com.au/sport/soccer/differing-styles-just-a-part-of-matildas-world-cup-challenge-stajcic-20181209-p50l4r.html

Group Stage Match 1: Italy

Australia will face off against Italy in their opening match of this summer’s World Cup.  The women’s teams have only played each other a handful of times over the years, but most Australian football fans feel that they have a score to settle with the Italians.  Back in 2006, at the men’s World Cup, it seemed that the Matildas’ male counterparts, the Socceroos, were going to reach the quarterfinal stage for the first time ever.  After scoreless 90 minutes, the Australians seemed to be the ones that would win in overtime or penalties; they were playing beautiful football and the momentum was on their side.  However, soccer can be a cruel sport.  With 10 seconds left in the three minutes that were added to make up for stoppages, Italy was awarded a penalty kick and Francesco Totti buried it.  The call was questionable, and looking at the replays, Lucas Neill probably should not have been penalized, he definitely should not have been penalized if you ask an Aussie.  Referees are human, though, and that means it is nearly impossible for them to remain neutral.  Earlier in the match, Italian defender Marco Materazzi was sent off of the field with a red card in another controversial refereeing decision, and this last minute penalty was likely the makeup call.  Australian football fans don’t see it that way, though; all they know is that the penalty kick decision was not the right one, that they were robbed, and that the Italians are the ones who denied them of their quarterfinal berth.

This group stage game is almost a rematch, a chance for the Matildas to avenge the Socceroo’s disappointing finish caused by the injustice at Kaiserslautern.  On paper, the Matildas should produce a decisive win; however, Australia’s elimination from the 2006 World Cup reminds us that just because a team should win does not mean that they will.  This Italian side has produced some results that are quite surprising, the most notable of which being that they were the first European team to qualify for this summer’s World Cup.  This is a rather exceptional feat in a region with such outstanding squads, especially considering that out of the 9 UEFA teams to qualify, Italy is ranked higher than only Scotland.  The Italian women are all around very technical and tactical, but their strength lies mostly in their organized defense; this is sure to be a big challenge for the offensive minded Matildas, posing questions of how they will break lines and get forward.  Perhaps Italy will mirror the Swedish team that upset multiple favorites in the 2016 Olympics, relying on good defense and effective counterattacks to carry them through the tournament.  This kind of style can be frustrating to face for a team that is so centered around its talented offense, but I predict that the Matildas’ dynamic attack will prevail 2-0, hopefully diminishing some of the pain of the men’s 2006 loss.

 

Sources:

Baum, G. “Flashback: 2006 World Cup, heartbreak for Australia”. The Sydney Morning Herald, 18 June 2018. https://www.smh.com.au/sport/soccer/flashback-2006-world-cup-heartbreak-for-australia-20180614-p4zlie.html

Lynch, M. “Differing styles just a part of Matildas’ World Cup Challenge: Stajcic”. The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 December 2018. https://www.smh.com.au/sport/soccer/differing-styles-just-a-part-of-matildas-world-cup-challenge-stajcic-20181209-p50l4r.html

Rugari, V. “Revenge, of sorts, at last: Matildas draw Italy in World Cup group”. The Sydney Morning Herald, 9 December 2018. https://www.smh.com.au/sport/soccer/revenge-of-sorts-at-last-matildas-draw-italy-in-world-cup-group-20181209-p50l4k.html

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