Three Burning Questions: Matildas v Italy

by Ben Somerford on Jun 09, 2019

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After months of off-field drama and hype, the Matildas’ 2019 Women’s World Cup campaign finally commences tonight at 9pm AEST against Italy in France.

Australia heads into the tournament as one of the favourites to lift the trophy, ranked sixth in the world and boasting some genuine star power led by new skipper Sam Kerr.

Of course, this year’s tumult with Alen Stajcic sacked throws a spanner into the works but, months on from those dramas, expectations remain equally high from the Australian public.

GGArmy’s Ben Somerford poses three burning questions ahead of tonight’s clash with the Azzurre.

Will the Matildas win?
Short answer, yes! Australia’s recent form hasn’t been encouraging but this is the real deal and coach Ante Milicic, who only took over in February, has been building towards this game. Don’t forget relatively new Socceroos boss Ange Postecoglou had a poor run of form adjusting to his style prior to the 2015 Asian Cup before his side went on to lift the trophy.

Australia’s past two losses have also come against two sides inside the top 10, eighth-ranked Netherlands on their home turf and world number one USA in Colorado, so they’ve been tough fixtures. Italy, ranked 15th in the world, pose a different challenge, particularly in neutral Valenciennes with strong travelling support for both teams.

Superstar Sam Kerr has been banging in goals for fun in the NWSL and has primed herself for this tournament. Caitlin Foord also brings in good form and both will pose a significant attacking threat, which will be key in a World Cup opener which usually are cagey affairs.

Can the Matildas stop leaking goals?
Australia have conceded eight goals in their past two matches, going down 3-0 to the Netherlands last week and 5-3 to USA in April. That’s clearly a concern as well as the fact central defender Laura Alleway has this week been ruled out of the World Cup due to a foot injury.

But Alleway wasn’t first choice anyway and in Australia’s past two matches, preferred back pair Alanna Kennedy and Clare Polkinghorne both started. Steph Catley’s return at left-back after injury is a boost but that didn’t ease the issues against the Dutch.

Australia did only concede one goal at the Cup of Nations earlier this year but that was against weaker opposition. The defence has been leaky against top teams whom they’ll meet at the World Cup. Italy will pose a threat, but also represent a good opportunity for the back four to gain some cohesion and confidence together. A clean sheet tonight will be very important moving forward.

Will Elise Kellond-Knight start?
The 28-year-old Melbourne City midfielder has been battling a calf issue which forced her to miss last week’s friendly loss to the Dutch. She also missed a few training sessions this week but was part of Saturday’s session with the main group.

Coach Ante Milicic said they’ll assess how she pulls up but she appears likely to be passed fit and subsequently available to start.

If not, there are options in her midfield role which would free up Emily van Egmond, including 34-year-old Aivi Luik as a straight swap or utilizing Tameka Yallop or Katrina Gorry in midfield from the start.