When: Thursday, July 20
Where: Stadium Australia, Sydney
Start: 8pm (10:00 GMT)
If Australian captain Sam Kerr is to carry the burden of the nation’s expectations, he has done well not to let himself be disheartened by it.
The hosts open their much-anticipated campaign against the Republic of Ireland in front of a packed Australia Stadium in Sydney on Thursday.
Kerr, a Matildas player and hugely popular on the field, said going into the game that would kick-start his team’s journey in the competition seemed “impossible”.
“It’s really happening. All the preparation work that we have been doing for many years, all the days of hard work, and now it will come together in 24 hours,” he said in a pre-match press conference with coach Tony Gustavsson.
Tomorrow before our eyes 👀
– CommBank Matildas (@TheMatildas) July 19, 2023
Kerr highlighted the Matildas’ versatility and ability to play in different positions as they won nine of their last 10 games, including a 1-0 win over France in a friendly last Friday and a 2-0 win over England in April that ended the Lionesses’ 30-game unbeaten run.
An estimated 83,000 people are expected for the games, Australia’s most important sports since the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
Kerr, 29, who played for Australia as a 15-year-old and is taking part in his fourth World Cup, said that instead of struggling, he and his teammates are embracing the support.
“I mean, Aussies love their sport, don’t they?” the Chelsea player said. “But being at home and feeling good, walking the streets and seeing people who are happy or flying around the country to see us, it’s good to feel the love.”
In contrast, Ireland are in their first World Cup and are starting to contend without major incidents.
But they were boosted by midfielder Denise O’Sullivan declaring herself fit after picking up an injury in last week’s loss to Colombia.
Captain Katie McCabe said the Irish were ready to go to Australia.
“We are Irish, we are not ashamed of our bodies. It’s ingrained in us, the hardworking group that we are,” he said.
“So yes, we are ready for Australia to be physical tomorrow, we will be ready to match.”
Ireland coach Vera Pauw admitted Australia’s performance in the World Cup could be significant.
“They have great experience, they have great players, they have great pace so we know what we are going to face,” he said.
“We see our chances here, but we play every game to win and I believe we can show our qualities again.”
Australian team news
Despite injuries surrounding midfielder Tameka Yallop, coach Gustavsson was tight-lipped about his team’s fitness.
Irish team news
Ireland coach Vera Pauw said O’Sullivan had made an “amazing recovery” to be fit for the opening match. “We are very open, there is nothing to hide. Denise is fit, she will play,” said Pauw.
Forms and layouts
Group 10 is one of the favorites after a string of recent strong results.
Ireland are ranked 22nd but will be hoping to fight the favourites.
Irish love 💚
– Irish Football ⚽️🇮🇪 (@IrelandFootball) July 19, 2023
Head to head
Ireland upset the Matildas 3-2 in 2021, the only time the two sides have met.
Players to watch
Australia: Kerr, a Golden Boot fan and sports legend, is the favorite to lead his team to the playoffs. With 55 goals in his last 72 games, fans are hoping to see a little bit of his cartwheel-backflip celebration.
“It’s about having fun and having fun and showing what football is about. Maybe it can [happen]maybe it won’t,” said the pilot.
For the team, the quest for greatness never ends, on and off the pitch. The time is now.
We are looking down with no fear #FIFAWWCand I will not rest:
– CommBank Matildas (@TheMatildas) June 27, 2023
Ireland: Arsenal’s Katie McCabe is a player who brings the team together as a young captain, and will be vital to Ireland’s chances in the tournament.
We are going 🇦🇺✈️ thanks for the amazing delivery yesterday ☘️💚 pic.twitter.com/IhF1sedI3g
— Katie McCabe (@Katie_McCabe11) July 7, 2023