Sizing up Matildas’ World cup reality
WITH star striker Sam Kerr proving herself to be the footballing hero Australia deserves, after a four-goal haul against Jamaica, the Matildas are back on course for what many hope is a breakout World Cup.
The 4-1 rout of Jamaica came after a shaky start to the tournament, where the Matildas were stunned in a 2-1 loss to Italy in their opener and then came from behind to beat Brazil 3-2 thanks to strikes from Caitlin Foord, Chloe Logarzo and a controversial own goal.
That Kerr was heavily involved in the own goal, almost annoying the Brazil defence into an error, was a harbinger of things to come.
Her four-goal heroics against Jamaica gave her World Cup so far something more than a controversial interview, where she told "haters" to "suck on that" after the win over Brazil.
Now the Matildas are into the final 16 as they look to go even deeper than the final eight for the first time in their tournament history.
What is for sure is they have the firepower to do so with Kerr and Foord leading the line ahead of the likes of Logarzo and pacy teenager Ellie Carpenter, who has also been in stellar form.
To get to the quarter-finals they have to get past Norway, who finished second in Group A behind France, before a potential quarter-final against either Asian rivals Japan or the old enemy, England.
MATCHES AND HOW TO WATCH
Matildas v Norway: Sunday June 23, 5AM (AEST), Allianz Riviera, Nice: Watch SBS, Optus Sport
Aside from the obvious round-of-16 battle with Norway, who are ranked 12 in the world, tough matches loom for the Matildas, who could face the daunting task of either Sweden or the USA in the final four.
But first Norway.
The Norwegians have pedigree and won the World Cup in 1995, when it was held in Sweden, beating Germany 2-0 in the final.
This Norway team though are not of the same ilk as that one and will likely rely on keeping their shape and attempting to force the Matildas into error with defensive pressure.
Should Australia beat Norway that would leave a battle against England or Japan in the final eight.
Neither team would be easy but England would be the bigger problem for the Matildas.
They finished third at the last World Cup and have a host of stars.
While Nikita Parris and Ellen White provide threats in attack, captain Steph Houghton and central midfielder Jill Scott have combined for upwards of 240 England caps lending them plenty of experience under pressure.
If Australia do get past those two challenges then a battle with perennial nemesis USA looms large.
The Americans are the queens of world football and aside from belting Thailand 13-0 in their opener have serious pedigree.
They are defending champions and three-time World Cup winners, also claiming titles in 1991 and 1999 and their current side features some serious firepower.
Strikers Carli Lloyd, Alex Morgan and Megan Rapinoe are all massive threats, while Kerr's Chicago teammate Julie Ertz is an extremely versatile midfielder who is very good in attack and defence.
The US are the team to beat.
However if it does come to the Matildas making a miraculous run to the final two then it could come down to a potential showdown with a traditional heavyweight in Germany, Sweden or Canada in the final.
* Odds courtesy of Ladbrokes
MATILDAS PLAYERS TO WATCH
Sam Kerr: Australian football's golden girl, Kerr has done it all in terms of individual accolades. She was named ESPN's Player of the Year in 2018, has been the MVP of America's NWSL, Asian and Australian footballer of the year and dominated the W-League. Despite 31 goals in 77 Matildas appearances she hasn't tasted the ultimate success at a World Cup. At 25 she's in her prime and ready to help Australia make a run.
Kerr is currently a big chance for the Golden Boot as well, with five goals in three games, she sits equal at the top of the goalscorers list, alongside the USA's Alex Morgan.
Lisa De Vanna: Before there was Kerr, there was de Vanna and despite being 34, one of the only women to be a Puskas Award finalist can still make a massive impact. Once a tempestuous and controversial star, the extremely fiery West Australian has mellowed a little in recent years and brings plenty of class whether she starts or comes off the bench.