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World Cup down under; is this Australia's year?

Australia has become almost synonymous with women's football in the past year. The Women's World Cup is heading down under this Summer, with Australia and New Zealand jointly hosting the 2023 edition. Whilst New Zealand will certainly hope to make the last 16, Australia mean business this Summer, with high hopes of going all the way on home soil.

On the face of it, there's no immediate reason as to why they couldn't go all the way. Since the women's world rankings were first produced in 2003, the Matilda's have never dropped out of the top 16, rising as high as fourth in 2017. On top of that, Australia haven't lost a competitive game all season, with a 100% winning record. They've also won friendlies against Sweden, Spain and England in the last 12 months.

All of this points to Australia being a brilliant team, which of course they are. And yet they've never reached a World Cup semi-final. Australia Women have a recent history similar to the England men's team of the 2000s; a team with huge potential but usually eliminated in the quarter-finals.

Australia qualified for the knockout stages in both 2007 and 2011 but were eliminated in the first knockout game, which at the time was the quarter-final. They played well on both occasions but were beaten by superior Brazil and Sweden teams, which whilst disappointing was encouraging for a developing Aussie team.

In 2015 it was a little harder to take. Having battled past Brazil in the last 16, Australia fell at the quarter-final stage once again, going out to an 87th-minute winner against Japan in Canada. It was even more painful in France in 2019, as the Aussies fought back from 1 - 0 down to score a late equaliser against Norway, only to go out at the last 16 stage on penalties, scoring just once in the shootout.

So is it any different this year? Well, Australia have actually been knocked out of another tournament in the quarter-finals since 2019, losing 1 - 0 to South Korea in the Asian Cup last year. However, the season they've had shows that they're excited to be playing the tournament at home, and want to deliver something special for their fans.

Beating Sweden, Spain or England is a stand-out result of any season. Victory over three teams of this quality in a single season is a statement of real intent. This is the best women's team Australia has ever had and they'd have high hopes of competing for the trophy wherever the tournament takes place.

Hosting may seem like an advantage, but it hasn't been as effective as it has in the men's game. The USA are the only country to ever win a women's World Cup on home soil, which was all the way back in 1999 when they beat China on penalties in the final. In fact, the USA are the only country to even reach the semi-finals on home soil.

Australia have to get the home crowd behind them if they are to join the USA as home winners. Their group poses early tests in their campaign, with another contender in Canada awaiting them in Group B. The Matilda's also have to take on debutants Ireland and experienced World Cup side Nigeria.

The group shouldn't be too difficult to get out of, but it certainly won't be easy to win with Canada awaiting them on Matchday three. It looks as though it'll be important to win Group B because Australia's group is paired with European Champions England's. Assuming England can navigate their group, a re-match of their April friendly could await in the last 16 if Australia can't win the group.

The Matilda's will be hoping to take on China or Denmark instead, who are favourites to finish second behind England. After, the quarter-finals will likely include a meeting with France or Brazil, both countries that have performed well recently, with France winning a warm-up tournament in April and Brazil the reigning South American champions.

If Australia are to win the tournament, they're going to have to beat these sorts of teams. Both France and Brazil represent hugely difficult opponents, who will likely push them all the way. The worry for Australia is that they've rarely had to come from behind in the past year or so.

It's not hard to imagine a situation where the hosts fall behind and come back for a fantastic, potentially late win in the last eight, but find themselves burned out for a semi-final against England or Germany. Australia are an excellent team, make no mistake, but are they in the same league as Germany or the USA? Not just yet.

If they are to pull off an unlikely run to the final, they really need the crowds to get behind them, but that isn't always the easiest thing to achieve in Australia when it comes to their football.

The home of football in Australia is Stadium Australia, located in Sydney, where Australia will play their opening game; it'll also host the final.

But as you can see, it's not exactly a football stadium. It has a large grass track around the edge and the seats behind the goals are set deep into the stand. This is because Stadium Australia, the home of Australian football, isn't a football stadium.

This represents how football isn't particularly high on the pecking order in Australia. Cricket, rugby and Aussie rules football are all more popular than football in Australia at a spectator level, which begs the question as to how much support Australia can rely on. If the big football countries like England and Brazil turn up with thousands upon thousands of fans, can Australia compete with that?

We've seen the USA dominate the World Cup in the last 20 years, largely because of their incredible travelling support. Australia will struggle unless they can really get the country behind them, which perhaps makes their opening game against Ireland on 20th July that much more important.

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