The Matildas are into the quarter-finals of a Women’s World Cup blown wide open, high on confidence and believing they can handle whatever opponent is thrown at them.
To top it all off, they’ve just got Sam Kerr back.
Everything is opening up perfectly for Tony Gustavsson’s charges after a mature 2-0 win over Denmark, in which Australia coolly outmanoeuvred the world No.13 and, bar a shaky start, were rarely troubled defensively.
While the United States, Germany, Brazil and Canada have already crumbled and exited stage left, the Matildas have charged into the final eight for just the second time and laid down their marker as a contender.
Along the way they have attracted bumper crowds and TV audiences – Channel Seven’s broadcast of Monday’s Denmark game reached 6.54 million viewers, the network’s No.1 show of the year.
Australia professionally dealt with favouritism against the Danes, and whether they face France or Morocco on Saturday evening in Brisbane will believe they can adjust accordingly – and handle the ever-growing weight of expectation.
“We had our backs against the wall last game (against Canada), and we thrived under that pressure,” goal scorer Hayley Raso said.
“But being the host nation is also a huge advantage. We’ve got the crowd behind us. We come into these games, and we want to win. We know we need to win.
“We’ve got the support of the whole country, and we definitely feel it.”
Star attacker Caitlin Foord said the side “don’t really feel the pressure” of expectation.
“We’re just enjoying our performances and building on that,” she said.
“We want to keep building and keep coming out better. We’ve set the bar now to what our performance is and what the bare minimum is.
“We know we have to keep taking it to another level if we want to go all the way.”
Australia have had six goal scorers at the World Cup so far: Raso, Foord, Steph Catley, Mary Fowler, Emily van Egmond and Alanna Kennedy.
“Tournament football is about playing the game in front of you, whatever that looks like, and finding a way,” Gustavsson said.
“This team have proven now that they can always find a way.
“Not just Sam Kerr – we have multiple options to score goals.”
It may be “not just Sam Kerr”, but getting back Australia’s all-time leading goal scorer doesn’t hurt.
Kerr entered the fray in the 80th minute on Monday, making her return from the calf injury that scuppered the start of her tournament.
“It’s incredible,” vice-captain Catley said.
“How many times can you get to a quarter-final and then add your best player, one of the best players in the world, back into your team; your captain?”
Van Egmond has excelled as a false No.9 but welcomed close friend Kerr’s return to the fray.
“Tonight also demonstrated that we’re not just a one-trick team,” she said on Monday.
“Off the back of all that you add our leader back in – arguably the best striker in the world – and that’s pretty scary.”
Australia won’t look beyond Saturday’s quarter-final and towards their dream of holding up the World Cup just yet.
“That’s the dream. Everyone’s here to do that, right?” Kerr said.
“But … we’re taking this one game at a time and we’re not going to look too far ahead because that’s when you slip.”
(Australian Associated Press)