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Team in focus: Australia

Wednesday, December 5, 2018
Australia rejoice - AFC Women's Asian Cup 2018 - 1

Kuala Lumpur: As the countdown to Saturday's FIFA Women's World Cup official draw continues, profiles Asia's highest-ranked nation - Australia.

For the first time in their history, sixth-ranked Australia are expecting to be among the seeded teams when the official draw pots are revealed on Friday, with Alen Stajcic's charges hoping they can avoid the type of 'group of death' they have endured in a number of recent major tournaments.

Their rise to become one of the world's top half-dozen sides has included memorable scalps - none more so than the historic 2017 win over defending World Champions the United States - and has seen Sam Kerr emerge as one of the world's best players.

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But Australia's strength is not limited to Kerr. There is quality all in areas, particularly in midfield - where Emily van Egmond and Elise Kellond-Knight are consistent performers - while the recent return of Caitlin Foord has added an extra dimension to an already-potent attack.

Recent results have been mixed, as Stajcic has experimented with both personnel and tactics, now Australia craves success on the biggest stage and France 2019 has been targeted as the World Cup where the Matildas - after three successive quarter-final eliminations - can challenge for a first-ever title.

Road to France

As 2014 AFC Women's Asian Cup runners-up, Australia were spared the stress of qualifying for the 2018 edition of the tournament, but - while they reached the final in Jordan - the continental finals provided challenges at nearly every step.

After opening their campaign with a goalless draw against Korea Republic, Australia got up and running with an 8-0 hammering of Vietnam, but it took a late Kerr equaliser in their final group match against Japan (1-1) to stamp their ticket to the final four and France 2019.

An unconvincing semi-final performance helped Australia past Thailand on penalties, before the concession of a late Kumi Yokoyama goal meant they were once again defeated by Japan in the final.

Ultimately, qualification for a seventh successive World Cup was achieved in Jordan, but just one win from five matches was certainly less than Australia would have hoped for.

Recent form

The Matildas bounced back from their AFC Women's Asian Cup disappointment with wins over Brazil (3-1) and Japan (2-0) and a 1-1 draw against the United States at the Tournament of Nations, but results have been patchy since then as players were rested or tried in unfamiliar positions.

A decisive defeat by France (2-0) and a somewhat fortunate draw against England (1-1) were followed by a shock 3-2 defeat at home to Chile, before Australia rounded out the year with a commanding 5-0 win over the South Americans three days later.

Head coach: Alen Stajcic

The man who led the Matildas to their highest ever FIFA ranking of fourth in 2017, Stajcic has overseen rise which has made the Australia a contender in any competition they participate in.

The 45-year-old has left no stone unturned in expanding his squad's depth and versatility, trying multiple players in a variety of positions Australia's ever-expanding legion of fans will be hoping those methods will be vindicated in 2019.

Star player: Sam Kerr

Still only 25, Kerr has already appeared at two FIFA Women's World Cups, but her career has experienced a remarkable rise since the last global finals, and the forward has become arguably the biggest star - male of female - in the Australian game.

A veritable mountain of individual awards has come Kerr's way in recent times, but 19 goals in international football and more than 50 at club level in the last two years are as good an indicator of her quality as any.

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