Group D: United States | Australia | Sweden | Nigeria
With the Aussies heading into Canada with more big-stage experience, can they survive the group?
With five Asian Football Confederation (AFC) spots available, the powerful Aussies' participation in this summer's Women's World Cup was never seriously in doubt. Not even a surprising, poorly timed coaching change (Hesterine de Reus was out and Alen Stajcic in) could prevent the Matildas from reaching the final of the 2014 AFC Women's Asian Cup, which serves as the confederation's qualifying tournament. Australia lost a tight 1-0 title match against Japan after a 2-2 draw versus the reigning World Cup champions during the group stage.
In the zone
Forward Kyah Simon was the most active player in the attacking area during the 2011 Women's World Cup. She averaged 4.4 shots in that range per 90 minutes, which topped the tourney.
Fearless and dangerous, the versatile Aussies finally have experience, too. "In 2011, we went in with five players that were under 20 and an average age of just over 21," says former Australia coach Tom Sermanni. "Those players have matured over the last four years." Others on the roster are about to participate in their third World Cup. And even though they're probably not going to win it all this time around, the athletic and skilled Matildas can beat any team in the world on their day. If dynamic young fullback Steph Catley and forward Caitlin Foord can help Australia survive a Group D rounded out by Nigeria, Sweden and the United States, no team will want to face the Australians in the second round.
The Aussies are expected to use a 4-3-3 lineup:
Who starts in net? Former No. 1 goalkeeper Lydia Williams tore her left ACL last July playing for Western New York of the National Women's Soccer League. She battled back from the injury to be named to the Aussies' World Cup squad, but Stajcic has yet to name a starter (Melissa Hudson and Mackenzie Arnold are also in the net rotation).
World Cup history
A look at how Australia has fared in previous tournaments:
The Aussies' first two matches will be held at Winnipeg Stadium, while the third will be played at Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton:
• June 8: United States, 7:30 p.m. ET
• June 12: Nigeria, 5 p.m. ET
• June 16: Sweden, 8 p.m. ET
Group D stands for death and that means Australia will be the odd team out. It is unfortunate Australia is in this uber-difficult group. The Aussies were very young in 2011, but surprised many by reaching the quarterfinals. With four more years of experience under their belt and a never-say-die mentality, it makes you want to cheer for them.
- Luke Dufficy (@luke_dufficy) May 18, 2015