The Matildas will open their Olympic campaign against long time rivals and 2023 World Cup co-hosts New Zealand.
Australia have had a difficult preparation. Incoming manager Tony Gustavsson has had only five matches to prepare his side for an intense tournament in a tough group.
A run of five consecutive losses is worrying form headed into the opening game but there is no better time to record their first win of 2021.
In a group that includes the seemingly unstoppable U.S.A and European powerhouse Sweden, the opening match offers the Matildas their best chance of a win.
Australia has not lost to the Football Ferns in 27 years, the most recent was a convincing victory in 2019. On that day a goal either side of half time to Emily Gielnik and Hayley Raso was the difference. Both players will be making their Olympic debut in Toyko.
New Zealand’s preparation has been even more disrupted than Australia’s.
The side has been unable to play any games in 2020 and coach Tom Sermanni will have the biggest challenge of his career organizing his side.
Both teams will view this game as a must-win and an opportunity to start the Olympics in the best way possible. Anything less than three points for Australia will be a disappointment.
Keys to Victory:
The defensive woes that saw Australia concede 13 goals in three games have largely been solved. A switch to a more defensive formation and a change in Goalkeeper with Teagan Micah coming into the squad has seen them concede just once in the last two matches.
The problem is that the strikers remain reliant on limited opportunities. If the likes of Sam Kerr and Caitlin Foord can be more involved or more clinical that should end the team’s goal drought.
New Zealand has a talented midfield with players capable of possessing the ball and controlling the tempo of a match.
Annalie Longo and Olivia Chance had strong seasons for Melbourne Victory and Brisbane Roar respectively and both are capable of hitting the score sheet.
Australia’s midfield has yet to really settle. On paper, they look to be at full strength with the returns of Chloe Logarzo and Elise Kellond-Knight but under Gustavsson, the centre of the park has looked different almost every half of football. This could be an area of the match that New Zealand can control.
Because of their lack of games as a team, New Zealand remains very much an unknown threat in the group. They are Australia’s best chance at an early win but the players and manager will hold no fear of The Matildas.
If New Zealand can frustrate Australia defensively and control the midfield, they can get a result.
Player to Watch
Ellie Carpenter might currently be Australia’s most important player.
The Lyon defender was missing from the sides that lost 5-2 to Germany and 5-0 to The Netherlands.
Both teams exploited the absence of Carpenter at right back. Eight of the ten goals came from moves started or finished on that side of the pitch.
Since her return to the team, Australia has significantly improved. Her runs from deep made her an attacking menace in the close loss to Denmark and when she formed part of a back three the side looked defensively solid against Sweden.
She appeared to shift to a position on the wing in the second half against Japan and immediately carried the ball into the penalty box. She is Australia’s best attacking weapon and most athletic defender.
Carpenter is a spectacular player in full flight and is in her second Olympics despite only recently turning 21. Her influence will be massive, no matter what role she is used in.
Australia vs New Zealand Group G.
Date: Wednesday 21st July
Kickoff: 9:30 pm AEST
Venue: Ajinomoto Stadium, Toyko.