As the countdown to the 2023 World Cup approaches the home straight, Australia and New Zealand are preparing to welcome the world.
The ninth staging of FIFA’s global showpiece promises to be the biggest edition of the tournament in every conceivable metric by a distance. The number of participants has, of course, grown to 32. But 2023 will see ticket sales, prize money, viewing figures and also broadcasting rights sales absolutely smashed.
On the pitch, the tournament should be the most open one yet. Whether it be injury problems with England, Netherlands, France, internal issues with Spain and Canada, or just simply being a team in transition like the USA, almost all of the front-runners have issues to contend with.
Almost all. But not quite. There’s an outlier among the favourites that has managed to avoid a plague of injuries and internal wrangling: co-hosts Australia.
The Matildas are riding the crest of a wave. A win against France in their send-off game in front of a record crowd of 50,000, coming off the back of England’s 30-match unbeaten run. Coming into the World Cup, Australia have won nine out of their last 10 games — the only blot on the copy book coming in a 1-0 defeat against Scotland in London, a few days before claiming the scalp of the Lionesses.Embed from Getty Images
As well as the likes of Sam Kerr, Caitlin Foord and Mary Fowler being in fine form, the return of Ellie Carpenter from an ACL injury has buoyed an increasingly confident and resolute defensive unit. Clean sheets against the likes of Sweden, England and France suggest that facing Australia will prove a difficult task no matter who they face in the latter stages of the tournament.
Injuries, or a lack thereof, have been kind too. Whereas England are missing the likes of Leah Williamson, Fran Kirby and Beth Mead, the Dutch are without Vivianne Miedema. The Spanish have been decimated by a much publicised fall-out between their star players, Jorge Vilda and the Spanish FA.
Tony Guatavsson has a clean bill of health and a settled squad after months of experimenting with players and copping some heavy losses and no small amount of criticism in the process.Embed from Getty Images
It was a process that yielded results for former Socceroos boss, Ange Postecoglou as he lead Australia to the 2015 Asian Cup title. That too, was on Australian soil. Gustavsson will be hoping for similar success and not a repeat of their own Asian Cup campaign in 2022 in India. Where they exited in the quarter-finals at the hands of South Korea, despite being heavy favourites to win the tournament. A low point in the Swede’s reign.
With a whole country behind them and expectations higher than they’ve ever been for Australia’s favourite and most recognisable sports team, there is an increasing feeling that come the final on August 20th, the Matildas will fulfil their destiny by lifting the trophy at Stadium Australia.
Anything else, might be seen as an opportunity missed.